From the front line to the front yard

·5 min read

A Gananoque resident is getting a $5,000 garden makeover from the Landscape Ontario Horticultural Trades Association.

The Garden Makeover program was developed specifically in response to COVID.

“In spring when COVID started we formed a COVID task force and they came up with the idea of a garden makeover as a way to thank front-line workers, so this program is new, but we have a long history of giving back to the community,” said Scott Barber, digital media specials with Landscape Ontario.

The organization put out a call to the public through social media, their email list and website for people to share stories of front-line workers who had shown real dedication to their community, explained Barber.

The program received more than 1,000 nominations across Ontario, but only one nominee was picked for each region. Gananoque’s Alexis Wakelin is the very surprised Upper Canada region recipient.

“A friend had nominated me, but forgot to tell me, so I had no idea until she called to tell me I’d won” said Wakelin.

A personal support worker, Wakelin put in 118 straight days without a break during the first wave of the pandemic. Since then (six months), she’s had just one weekend off from Carveth Care Centre in Gananoque, where she works.

It would be a gruelling schedule for anyone, but for Wakelin, who has two teenage sons and two teenage step-daughters at home, it’s been especially tiring, thought you won’t hear her complaining. “What’s really kept me going is just knowing that the residents need me,” said Wakelin. “I just knew that they needed the care done and I had to go and do it.” That care has involved going into Carveth Care Centre every day twice a day. At 5:30 in the morning, she and a co-worker get 18 residents up, dressed, and ready for the day. And then at 6 in the evening, Wakelin and the same colleague return to get them all ready for bed.

Employed by Care Partners, Wakelin used to work with clients in the community as well as at Carveth. Once COVID arrived, Wakelin and five other personal support workers were given a choice of either working in the community or working at Carveth, but they could no longer do both.

“They wanted to keep the two completely separated to reduce the risk of spread, so they asked the two senior staff if we would just go in and service the retirement home,” says Wakelin. “There used to be six of us that rotated through Carveth, but with COVID, it became just the two of us, taking care of everyone in the building, every day twice a day,” said Wakelin.

Pre-pandemic, Wakelin would usually visit elderly clients in their own homes to help them with everything from bathing and dressing, meal preparation and light housekeeping, to exercising and medications. She would also perform similar tasks at Carveth.

The weight of her responsibility to the vulnerable residents at Carveth took its toll.

“I’m always worried I could be asymptomatic and take COVID into the home,” said Wakelin. Her concern meant the four teenagers in her house were also barred from socializing for fear that they might infect her.

Aside from the worry, there was the need to be positive and strong for the residents of Carveth.

“The biggest challenge is just dealing with the residents’ fear. That’s the hardest part — just reassuring them that we are doing everything we can to keep them safe,” said Wakelin. Wearing gowns, goggles, gloves, and masks helped allay some of the fears, but at the same time it can be tough to make personal connections with residents when you’re wearing all that PPE, noted Wakelin. And yes, it’s hot and uncomfortable inside all the PPE, although she shrugs off the discomfort, knowing how essential it is, not just for Carveth residents, but for keeping her family safe, too. Still, it was physically and emotionally draining.

“She was working non-stop every day during COVID; you could see it in her face, she was exhausted,” said Amy Kirkland, the friend that nominated Wakelin.

Carveth Care Centre has had no cases of COVID among staff or residents. and staff have been and are still being tested every two weeks.

As the second wave of COVID creeps closer, Wakelin is delighted to have been recognized for work she simply takes in stride. She won’t volunteer this information, but besides being a personal support worker, she also manages Kirkland’s and her son’s hockey team.

“Last year when we still had tournaments in Picton, Deseronto and Stirling, she rarely missed a game, and only if she had to work,” said Kirkland.

As Kirkland explains, nominating Wakelin was something of a no-brainer.

“She’s the kindest human being ever and so selfless; she’s just a really good person,” said Kirkland.

Wakelin has already met with a local landscaper for her makeover, and they’ve already started redesigning her front yard.

“If the weather holds they’ll do it in the next week or two, but if not then it will be done next spring,” said Wakelin, adding that she’s looking forward to coming home to a nice front yard after her shifts.

Heddy Sorour, Local Journalism Initiative, Brockville Recorder and Times