By Kristy Strauss –
For the last 11 years, Sharon Rideout and Westboro resident B.J. Porter have been the best of friends. They meet weekly to grab a coffee, go shopping, catch a movie – and they even get their mammograms done together.
Their friendship – and many others like it – has been sparked thanks to Citizen Advocacy of Ottawa, which is celebrating 40 years of bringing volunteers from the community together with people who are isolated and vulnerable because of a disability.
The organization’s 40th Anniversary Launch and Luncheon took place on April 2.
“In today’s modern day and age, there are so many changes. But at Citizen Advocacy, you will see people who have had matches for 25 or 30 years,” says Porter. “It shows that things can last, and that makes me excited. It’s about caring.”
Over the years, the pair has earned their five-year and 10-year Citizen Advocacy pins, which are given out every year at the organization’s Christmas party.Porter says she proudly displays her pins on her coat, so people will ask about them.
“It’s a chance for me to talk about Citizen Advocacy. I’d like them to have a much higher profile,” she says. “It takes a lot to enlist people. People are afraid they won’t stay with it, but they should just try and see what they can get from it. (Sharon) has given me more than I’ve given to her.”
Porter particularly admires Rideout’s patience, and compassion towards other people.
“I’ve been angry sometimes, and I’ve been frustrated, but I’ve never seen her angry and I’ve never seen her lash out,” Porter says. “It’s amazing, Sharon always shifts things 180 degrees. She’s always very patient. She’s an angel sent to earth.”
She adds that Rideout will always speak up when she sees or experiences something positive, and will let that person know they are making a difference.
For instance, one of Porter’s most memorable moments with Rideout was when the pair were getting their mammograms together.
“She looked the lady in the eye and said, you have a really great place going here,” says Porter. “Or, she’ll see a woman with a child and say, that woman looks like an angel.”
However throughout their friendship, Porter has had an equal impact on Rideout.
“She’s a good girlfriend,” says Rideout.
Porter has taken her friend outside of her home at Royal Ottawa Place and has shown her a life in the Ottawa community.Rideout particularly loves animals, and their activities have included trips to the RCMP stables, the butterfly exhibit at Carleton University, and the movies.
“Sharon doesn’t have a car, so I can help drive her around,” says Porter. “Her basic needs are being met at a place like Royal Ottawa Place – it’s a lovely, clean and bright new building with great nursing staff. But I can fill in the gaps.”
“Sharon gets out all the time, and all this neat stuff happens to her,” Porter says. “She goes to parties, and dances, and she has a face in the community. She prefers it when I remind her that we’re girlfriends, and not all of her relationships have to be institutionalized. There’s someone there who just wants to spend time with her.”
Porter adds that she has grown to love Rideout, and looks forward to many more years of friendship.
“I just think that it is a really great thing to feel love, and I love her,” she says. “Whenever I feel that kind of swell of affection in my chest, it’s a really good feeling.”
For more information on Citizen Advocacy events or to volunteer, visit citizenadvocacy.org.