Random Act of Kindness Day is Friday February 17th
TORONTO, Feb. 16, 2023 – Random Act of Kindness Day is tomorrow, Friday February 17th , but Much Music icon Erica Ehm didn’t need a special day to surprise a caregiver with a visit and a much-welcomed gift. As a recent caregiver and Ambassador for the Ontario Caregiver Organization (OCO), Erica visited the home of Marissa, who is the caregiver for her 95-year-old mom. Erica and Marissa’s daughter, Vanessa along with a camera crew totally surprised Marissa when they showed up at her door with flowers and cannoli (Marissa’s favourite sweet). Marissa had been expecting a visit from her daughter and was stunned when she learned there was one more big surprise to come.
“Vanessa and our team had been in cahoots for about six weeks before our visit,” says Erica Ehm. “We worked together to surprise her with something that would be meaningful, and what we came up with was to renovate a small greenhouse in her backyard that Marissa’s dad had built. Marissa’s mom ‘Nonna’ could not go into this greenhouse alone because it needed repair. The gift was for Marissa, yet both Marissa and Nonna would benefit from it. The gift we gave Marissa was the gift of time. By fixing up this greenhouse, her mother would be able to go into the greenhouse on her own and putter there for hours.”
This epic act of kindness is part of The Undercover Kindness Project run by OCO, a registered charity that supports over four million family caregivers across Ontario. OCO is funded by the Government of Ontario and provides information, programs and services to caregivers. For The Undercover Kindness Project, caregivers are nominated by friends and family and OCO will chose three caregivers across the province to be recognized with an epic act of kindness. The gift is curated to meet the caregiver’s needs; delivered as a total surprise to the caregiver. It is hoped that it will inspire others to recognize the caregivers in their lives.
“When her daughter explained why we were at the door, Marissa started to cry,” says Erica. “The act of doing something kind for somebody is a powerful drug. It was a beautiful moment for all of us. Seeing the family come together and Marissa knowing how much her family values her, it was a profound feeling of joy for me. Her daughter Vanessa was so touched by the project and that OCO is about recognizing the challenges caregivers are having, she has signed up to be a volunteer.”
Erica was one of the four million caregivers across Ontario when she and her sister looked after their mom who had cancer. Asked how she became involved with OCO, Erica responds: “I was at a dinner party and was telling someone how I was caring for my late mother while at the same time looking after a child with mental health issues. A friend of mine was working on this project, and he said, ‘oh my God, what you are talking about is exactly what the OCO is trying to get across to people’. Once I understood the goals of The Undercover Kindness Project and realized the incredible resources OCO offers, including a 24/7 Caregiver Helpline and a caregiver support booklet you can download, I was happy to share my story and help bring attention to the project and the work being done by OCO to support caregivers.”
Erica says she would often be at the hospital during the day with her mother who had cancer, and some days would go back to the hospital in the evening with her child who was dealing with mental illness. It went on for 3 years. But like many caregivers, she was reluctant to ask for help.
“Research shows that caregivers don’t like to ask for help and from my own experience, I know this is true,” she says. “As soon as I started to tell some of my friends, they started to do acts of kindness which meant so much to me. They would Facetime with me, or we’d have virtual wine sessions; they would leave prepared meals on my doorstep – all of this meant so much to me.”
Amy Coupal, CEO of OCO puts the caregiver situation into perspective: “Over half of the four million caregivers in Ontario also work in addition to being a caregiver and are challenged to find a balance,” states Amy. “Almost 60% of the four million caregivers told us in a survey they feel burned out. Often people will say to a caregiver to let them know if they can help in any way, but the caregiver rarely takes them up on that. My advice is–don’t just offer to help, do something. Walk their dog, water their plants, or offer to sit with the family member so they can have a break. There are millions of people who could use some help and support. The Undercover Kindness Project is an awareness campaign to show people that you don’t need to do something big to make a huge impact on someone who is giving their time and energy to look after a family member, friend or neighbour who needs support.”
Amy also suggests downloading the I’m a Caregiver Booklet for a caregiver you may know.
The OCO was founded in 2018 and Amy became the organization’s first CEO in 2019.
“I have been a caregiver three times in my life—as a young person for my brother who had Cerebral Palsy; for my mom who had cancer and now for my dad who is in his eighties. Someone showed me an Act of Kindness when my mom was in palliative care and they let me park in their driveway when I was going back and forth to hospital which made a huge difference, as it gave me one less thing to worry about.”
Random Act of Kindness Day is on Friday February 17, 2023
Random Act of Kindness Day is on Friday February 17th, while National Caregiver Day is on Tuesday April 4th. As the Ambassador for OCO, Erica Ehm is proudly sharing her personal story as a caregiver to show others what caregiving looks like and to inspire others to commit their own random acts of kindness.
“The reason why I am on this planet is to spread kindness any way I can,” says Erica. “The Undercover Kindness Project’s goal is to remind people they likely know a caregiver who would appreciate an act of kindness. It doesn’t have to be as grand as fixing up a greenhouse; it can be something as simple as shovelling someone’s driveway, doing their gardening or bringing them coffee. The smallest acts of kindness can brighten someone’s day.”
Erica’s message is this: “In Ontario there are four million caregivers providing support to a family member or friend. You probably know someone who is a caregiver, so reach out to them and see how you can help and then do it.”
Giving back is a win-win situation for the giver and the receiver, according to Erica.
“When you do something kind for someone, it’s a beautiful feeling,” she says. “Remember that when you do something kind for someone, you get a shot of dopamine, or that feel-good feeling you get from doing something good. It’s almost like the universe has created a reward system, so I encourage people to do something kind today. Even the smallest gesture of kindness can have a big impact on someone’s life.”
For more information on the Ontario Caregiver Organization visit ontariocaregiver.ca
by Laurie Wallace-Lynch