“We’re just a little pocket on the east side of the city, but our small auxiliary offers support to a very special place,” says Sunny Hill Auxiliary president, Lynne Coates. Tucked away in a trailer on the grounds of the Sunny Hill Health Centre for Children, the auxiliary and its dozen dedicated members run a thriving thrift shop called Sunny Seconds.
Offering inspiration and support, Sunny Hill has touched the lives of children and their families for nearly nine decades. First called The Vancouver Preventorium, a hospital for children with tuberculosis, it transitioned into a long-term care facility housing up to 150 children with disabilities. After a visit from Princess Margaret in 1958 it became Princess Margaret’s Children’s Village. Another change to Sunny Hill Hospital led to its current name and designation as a rehabilitation branch of BC Children’s Hospital. Today, Sunny Hill Health Centre and its diverse team of health professionals provide specialized services and care to 5,000 children a year from across B.C.
The Sunny Hill Auxiliary was founded in 1984. Having grown up a few blocks away, Lynne Coates has firsthand recollections of Sunny Hill and the neighbourhood. Back then, there were still some bushy areas where kids could roam and play. She also remembers standing with her mother on the street to watch Princess Margaret arrive for the opening of the Children’s Village. A few decades later, on those same grounds, Lynne’s mother joined the newly formed auxiliary. Its mandate “to add to the comfort, ease and welfare of the children and their families” and to raise funds for Sunny Hill was quickly acted upon. An on-site portable trailer was given a makeover and emerged as the Sunny Seconds Thrift Shop, a ready-made source of revenue.
Since then, the rustic trailer and its welcoming volunteers have become a local draw and word-of-mouth success. Semi-annual yard sales and sandwich board signs on the street during opening hours help raise their profile. The Sunny Hill staff, Lynne points out, are big supporters of the shop and generous donors of goods. For out-of-town families staying for an assessment, Sunny Seconds is a cheery place to shop, browse or have a chat. As expected, toys and kids-related items are particularly popular.
Knowing that the proceeds of the sales will assist some of the same children and families visiting their shop is heartening. So too, seeing their donations and equipment purchases benefit the children at Sunny Hill is motivating. Such donations include: an outdoor “therapy garden” that has plants, tables, raised flower beds and a remote controlled awning; a computerized sewing machine that enables teenagers with limited dexterity to sew and design; a fully refurbished family kitchen that is frequented by those visiting; and a new outside playground area. The auxiliary has also purchased TVs, DVD players, iPads, and CCTVs, and helps fund day trips, summer camps, music programs, and special activities such as skiing and horseback riding therapy. At present, the auxiliary is buying two blanket warmer units, one for the main ward and one that will provide instant comfort in the pool area.
Coordinator of Volunteers Jill Howey appreciates the auxiliary’s longtime service and its many contributions. “Sunny Hill is an inspiring place and there’s a real sense of community here, not only among the staff and volunteers but also among the families that are going through a difficult time. Being here as a patient is a big step towards getting better and going back home. There can be emotion and tears, but also lots of smiles and fun as well.” The auxiliary members are very dedicated and not many leave, Howey notes. “We have a great group of volunteers. We’re thankful for all that they do at the thrift shop and for their many fundraising efforts.”
For Lynne Coates and her fellow volunteers, there is a mutual feeling of appreciation. “We enjoy what we do, we try to help out, and we hope to make a difference.” Lynne’s mother, Connie Smith, exemplified this ethos. She served as auxiliary president and as treasurer, and volunteered at the shop until the age of ninety. In her last years, she was less active but still willing. “Well, I don’t do much but I can sit and sort,” she would say. And now, Lynne’s daughter-in-law is following in the family footsteps by helping out at Sunny Seconds.
On the walls of the thrift shop and in the hallways of the health centre are thank-you cards and posters created by the children at Sunny Hill. “Seeing these,” Lynne says with a smile, “is what gives us a lot of satisfaction.”