By Kim Hutchison
It’s my job to write, but some experiences can’t accurately be put into words. That’s how I felt after attending the Amigos sing-a-long at the Centennial Centre for mental health and brain injury.
At 1:30 p.m. I made my way to the town centre where patients, family and staff members were seated eagerly waiting for the fun to begin. Numerous thick books packed with songs from every era were on each table and just as I began to flip through the pages, volunteers and employees Marjie Feil and Morris Paul emerged with guitars followed by Chaplain Ricky Williams holding his banjo. The three stood together while volunteer coordinator of the hospital, Janice Mackie, gave a warm and welcoming introduction. Paul asked if anyone present had any requests and everyone turned to the suggested page number. They began to sing and the entire room quickly followed suit.
The “Amigos” began about 10 years ago. Mackie was in Red Deer and saw a group of people performing who called themselves “Friends.” She wanted to bring a music program to the hospital and did what she could to get one started. Now, roughly seven years later, Mackie leads the sing-a-long with Paul and Feil called “Amigos”.
“We were originally called the Three Amigos but quickly realized there could be no such thing. Everyone who attends the sessions and sings along is an Amigo,” said Mackie. “We’re just friends enjoying each others company.”
An Amigo seated next to me told me that this was the most anticipated weekly event at the hospital and it was visible on the faces of everyone involved.
“There’s a spirit of personality in this group which reflects in those singing along,” said Paul. “It’s so rewarding to know that a small amount of our time has such an impact on people’s lives. There are so many magic moments.”
I got a chance to experience the impact he was speaking about firsthand. One person who attends can’t speak and has limited motor functions but knows every single word of “You are my Sunshine” and one man who rarely interacted with others now happily dances with Mackie to “Tenesee Waltz”.
“It’s gives families a chance to interact with their loved ones instead of caring for them when they visit. That little bit of grace makes a big difference,” said Feil.
Each week the staff members involved, aside from Mackie, Paul and Feil, alternate. Anyone who wishes to participate is more than welcome to do so.
Aside from Friday afternoons, the Amigos will be caroling through the halls at Christmas time.
“We don’t do it for any recognition,” said Fiel. We do it for the joy it brings to us based on the joy it brings others.”