By Sue Tiffin
Marika Lembo De Florio starts her days at 4 a.m. after just a few hours of sleep. But later in the morning when she answers the phone she does so still with a cheery greeting full of energy and raring to go.
De Florio lives in a log cabin in the woods in Gooderham where she moved about five years ago in hopes of enjoying winters with lots of snow. When she isn’t outside with her coffee wishing for the colder season to return she’s often on the road using that boundless energy to help others.
Of more than 340 Haliburton Highlands Health Services volunteers De Florio is the one with the most hours logged this year having contributed 1473 hours as a volunteer driver in the 2018-2019 year. Despite this time on the road she was surprised to hear she accumulated so many hours.
“I thought OK 1473 hours what does that work out to so I typed it into the ‘net and listen to this if I left New Year’s Eve in my car and drove 24/7 without stopping drove night and day every single day I would be done March 1” she laughed. “Is that not mind-blowing? I mean 24/7 not stopping.”
De Florio said she then searched for how many hours in a year there are realizing there are only 8760 and not hundreds of thousands as she said she first guessed.
“It didn’t strike me as a lot of hours when she told me because I thought there was like 100000 hours in the year” she laughed.
De Florio said she drives six days a week if a ride is needed.
“I feel so lucky to be able to drive because it’s great interaction you’re out every single day and I love driving” the former Toronto cab driver said. “Driving is therapy.”
The HHHS transportation program provided 13435 rides this year to clients requiring support in getting to appointments both locally and out of town.
“I just can’t tell you enough how you know new clients will get in the car and say ‘oh you just don’t know how grateful I am and how wonderful it is for you to do this’” said De Florio. “I said no no no you have it the other way around. I’m the one who’s grateful.”
If she’s not finding the sweet spots to park while her clients are at their appointments De Florio said it’s a good opportunity for her to get out of the house shop for hard-to-find items and occasionally play a game or two of poker at the local casino. But to her the best part of the job is connecting with clients who she ensures feel comfortable and safe by calling ahead to confirm the ride having an upbeat atmosphere in the car and as the “queen of oil changes” always keeping her trusty Toyota in top form.
“When they get in the car they are more than thrilled that they can unload all of their problems and I’ve got great ears for that” said De Florio. “Some people just want to talk and tell me everything that’s going on. I ask nothing they just want to talk. They’re happy to share things with you. And then away they go.”
De Florio’s preference is driving out of town but she said she’s perfected routes that enable her to avoid traffic or riskier driving.
“I’m a backroads girl” she said. “There are people who live up here some of them especially if they have to go to the city they’re not fond of the 401 because they’re not used to it and the highways.”
After De Florio the next busiest volunteer at HHHS drove 1066 hours and five more volunteers were able to drive between 700 and 900 hours. But any contribution helps the community according to HHHS.
“We are incredibly grateful for Marika’s dedication and commitment and for the contributions made by all of our HHHS volunteers who help make a difference for those who are facing some of the most challenging and vulnerable times of their lives” said Carolyn Plummer HHHS president and chief executive officer via email. “Volunteers are a cornerstone of HHHS; we have programs that couldn’t operate and facilities that wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the unfailing generosity of our volunteers. We also know that the difference volunteers make for the quality of life of our patients residents and clients is invaluable.”
De Florio stressed to readers who might be considering volunteering that volunteer reimbursement doesn’t affect pension or benefits that people might be receiving in any way.
“Volunteer drivers use their own vehicles to take people to medical appointments so we don’t expect them to be out of pocket for expenses associated with that” said Brigitte Gebauer co-ordinator of volunteer services at HHHS via email. “Our volunteer drivers receive 40 cents per km driven to offset things like gas oil changes tires ongoing maintenance and other wear and tear and depreciation they experience due to using their personal vehicle for their volunteer role (the amount we pay is restricted by the Broader Public Sector Accountability Agreement).”
De Florio said she can choose how often she volunteers working as little or as much as she wants to and can choose the locations she does or doesn’t drive to making the experience a positive one for her.
“You can drive one day a month or whatever you can drive wherever you want on your terms and you can go wherever you’d like to” she said. “If it’s not driving you’re interested in the same applies to any of the other aspects of volunteering. Just offer yourself or see what they have and put yourself in for some of those things because it gets you out of the house it gets you to interact and you’re never obligated.”
She said she lives a happy life and loves what she does. “It benefits yourself” she said. “It benefits the client because it gets them where they want to go but it benefits you too.”
De Florio doesn’t intend to slow down any time soon. “I’m almost 70 I’m going to 120” she laughed.
For more information about getting involved contact Brigitte Gebauer volunteer co-ordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 705-457-2941 extension 2927.