Beverley Wood, Welcoming Arms co-founder, helped thousands find their feet

·4 min read

When people want to lend a hand, sometimes taking that first step – or even knowing where to turn – can be daunting. But long-time community builder Beverley Wood had a simple mantra: it’s amazing what you can accomplish if you simply take the time to listen.

This was a philosophy that not only drove her as a co-founder and tireless volunteer at Welcoming Arms, an ecumenical organization founded in 2006 to lend a hand – and provide warm weekly meals, served up with a healthy side of fellowship – to residents in need. And it was advice she shared with countless volunteers from whom they learned by an example.

It is a legacy that will live on following Ms. Wood’s death at Southlake Regional Health Centre on Saturday, February 13, at the age of 82.

“It is hard to capture in mere words the force of nature that was Beverley,” said Welcoming Arms in a statement on Family Day. “She gave so much to our community by living a life of true purpose: serving others. Her Anglican faith was at the core of all that she did and she truly lived her faith ministering to others in myriad ways.”

Welcoming Arms paid tribute to her “countless hours” helping every aspect of Welcoming Arms’ day-to-day operations, special events, and serving on their Executive Council for all but the last two years.

“Her passion for our mission is one of the main reasons that Welcoming Arms has been so successful. Our organization and the community we serve will miss her dearly. From the many to the one, Beverley was there to provide solace to those who needed it, a shoulder to cry on, and, for those in despair, the gentle hands to do God’s work for our most vulnerable.”

An educator by trade, Ms. Wood first moved to Aurora in 1976.

Almost immediately after planting roots in the community, she set to work, throwing herself into initiatives spearheaded by Trinity Anglican Church, including playing a pivotal role in the sponsorship of Vietnamese Boat People and helping them settle in the community she loved.

But her mission soon branched out beyond Trinity and, before long, she was bringing representatives from various Christian communities together for a common purpose.

Welcoming Arms was founded to meet the needs of low-income families in Aurora who often sought assistance from their respective churches in order to make ends meet in lean times. Clients – or “visitors” – were often unemployed or on government assistance programs and the organization grew to fill in significant gaps they found in social services and programs already being offered.

“Aurora is a very special place for me, and it has always been,” said Ms. Wood after being recognized as Aurora’s Citizen of the Year in 2014. “It is a place that has allowed me to grow and get to know the community. I think the community work that we do has invited me to really get to know who my neighbours are and we have some really wonderful neighbours.”

She always cited her parents as “very, very giving people” who truly set the example she followed.

As an educator, those experiences were driven home continually and that line of work opened up many doors. It gave her the chance, she said, to develop a “listening heart,” a quality so important for people seeking help from Welcoming Arms.

She continually opened up her heart and ears right until the end.

At the start of the Global Pandemic, she was appointed by Mayor Tom Mrakas to the Aurora Community Cares Action Team, a task force developed to identify and address the needs of the community’s most vulnerable during challenging times. Together, they worked to get Welcoming Arms’ meal programs back up and running, translating them to our current circumstances into a drive-thru or walk-through endeavour and, until just last month, Ms. Wood was one of the many volunteers who don masks each week to distribute meals, warming hands and souls in the process.

“Our aim is to be of assistance to those people who are in need in Aurora,” said Ms. Wood of Welcoming Arms’ mission. “It could be any kind of need and our biggest gift is we are able to listen. We might not have all the answers, but we try. I can’t begin to tell you what I have learned by just opening up my heart and opening up my ears.”

Beverley Wood is survived by her son Geoffrey (Kirsty) and brother Peter Paterson.

Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran