Ever wonder if your doctor or specialist follows their own advice? Sunnybrook experts get candid with the approaches they take in their personal lives.
Katherine Alexopoulos is Director of Volunteer Resources at Sunnybrook.
Did you grow up in an environment of giving?
Absolutely. We lived in Hamilton, and my parents were very active volunteering in both the Greek and broader Hamilton community. My dad immigrated to Canada and not long after I was born, had a really bad accident. While he was in the hospital, the Salvation Army visited and offered support. He never forgot that and always gave back to that organization and so many others. I also remember my mother volunteering for countless organizations, including community events and festivals. Like so many others, we were not wealthy but never felt we lacked anything. My parents instilled in our family a strong work ethic, as well as the importance of “giving” and volunteering; that you get back far more than you give. I was raised with the mindset that that’s just what you did.
Did their influence steer your career path?
I was really lucky to find my way to volunteer management as a career. I always had an interest in health care, but knew being patient facing wasn’t for me because I’m far too emotional. I love people and want to help, and my job is the perfect way to do that.
So what do you do day-to-day to give back to others?
In recent years, time to formally volunteer has been limited, but I try to think about other people and do thoughtful things, like picking out a meaningful gift or writing someone a card. At Christmas and Easter, I love to bake cookie boxes for close friends. Kindness and empathy are so important because everyone has a story of their own struggles. When I retire someday, I’m hoping to become a pet therapy volunteer with my awesome cockapoo Maggie (although I’m not sure she will pass the pet evaluation)!
It’s always said we have to put on our own oxygen mask before helping others. Thoughts?
As a type A personality, I have to be intentional about that. The biggest thing for me right now is telling myself it’s ok to pick up a book or watch a movie without feeling guilty. Watching my parents and their work ethic, it was never a 9 to 5 thing, but I think I’m getting better at giving myself permission to chill.
I try to take care of myself by making healthy choices, like walking. I have missed my scheduled in-person yoga and fitness classes – I’m not very disciplined on my own! And because I’m an extrovert, getting together with a friend is a great way for me to recharge. I recently saw a greeting card that said “coffee with like friends is like therapy!” I thought that was so perfect.
People may find the idea of giving back a lot right now. What advice do you have?
Everyone has something to give. It can be informal, like checking in on an elderly neighbour, or formal, like volunteering at a hospital. Find what you love and use your skills, talents and caring towards that. There is a quote: “Giving back is the rent we pay for our time on earth.” This resonates with me.