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North Sydney woman receives Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers

Erma Carmichael stands next to a gallery of paintings completed by seniors through a program she founded at the Northside Community Guest Home.
Erma Carmichael stands next to a gallery of paintings completed by seniors through a program she founded at the Northside Community Guest Home. - Contributed

'You get much more back than you give'

NORTH SYDNEY, N.S. —

A North Sydney woman who recently picked up a national award has some sage advice for future volunteers.

“You get much more back than you give,” said 75-year-old Erma Carmichael.

Born in Diligent River, Cumberland County, Carmichael later moved to Cape Breton in the early 1960s where she worked at a bank and later operated a guest home with her husband.

For her work in helping seniors and low-income earners in the area, Carmichael was recently awarded the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers awarded by the Governor General of Canada.

“Why volunteer? Volunteers are usually the backbone of any organization that is successful,” she said.

As part of her charitable work, Carmichael has assisted at clinics in Sydney Mines and North Sydney during the regular tax season and year-round at the North Sydney library.

She also provides tax assistance to shut-ins and residents at the Northside Community Guest Home and Steven’s Rest Home.

Having spent more than 25 years helping Northside residents with their taxes, Carmichael was nominated for an award by her supervisor at Revenue Canada.

She was shocked when the Governor General’s office came calling.

Pictured is the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers that Erma Carmichael received from Governor General of Canada, Julie Payette.
Pictured is the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers that Erma Carmichael received from Governor General of Canada, Julie Payette.

“I was tongue-tied,” said Carmichael. “I didn’t know what to say, it was a real honour. There’s many, many others who probably deserve it way, way more than I do, but I was floored to tell you the truth.”

A board member of the Northside Community Guest Home since 2002, Carmichael also serves as its vice-chair.

About a year prior to joining the board, Carmichael started a painting program that she continues to run on a volunteer-basis with residents.

“It’s an incredible feeling to see the look on their faces,” she said. “They forget about their aches and their pains, and it takes them to another little space.”

Carmichael said the idea for the Tuesday morning program came to her after helping organize art shows on the Northside that have run for around 30 years.

“It just seemed like something to do,” she said of starting the seniors’ art program.

“I remember I was visiting there and I met a gentleman who actually had gone to school with my husband, Bill McEwan his name was, and I don’t know how we got in a conservation about painting, but anyway, I thought well, you know what, I’m going to start a painting group and maybe this gentleman will take part in it,” she said.

“And he did. There are many, many paintings by residents there who have now passed on.”

On Thursday nights, Carmichael also runs her own painting classes at the guest home with participant fees collected and passed on to the Northside Community Guest Home Foundation.

In total, she has raised a whopping $17,000 for her efforts.

A majority fundraising, or $12,000, was used to purchase a scanner device considered instrumental in diagnosing bladder infections which can have serious, but preventable outcomes for seniors.

The remaining $5,000 helped acquire a new van for senior excursions.

“Now, I’m working on something else,” she said with a laugh.

“As we all get older, there’s less and less volunteers. It would be nice to maybe encourage a few people to come on board with any of the things that we do.”

A dedicated member of St. John the Baptist Anglican Church in North Sydney, Carmichael has served as the parish’s volunteer treasurer for seven years and regularly helps out at its dinner theatres and bazaars.

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