Generosity is not dependent upon wealth but on willingness. It is a willingness to share of one’s time and resources without an expectation of anything in return. It’s a willingness that leads to charity, abundance, and kindness.
This generous spirit guides James Smith and Audrey Danchak to show practical love and care to others, especially during this pandemic. They provide home-cooked meals and deliver them to seniors living in their building. They do this despite their own personal challenges: both James and Audrey live with an acquired brain injury and have limited income.
Esther Tremblay manages the Brain Injury Drop In offered through Communitas Supportive Care Society in Chilliwack. She met Audrey more than a decade ago and through Audrey, got to know James. She is deeply inspired by their altruism.
“James and Audrey’s generosity and selflessness is remarkable,” she says. “They both live on a fixed income yet they give of their time and resources.”
From Stroke to Strength
In 2007 Audrey suffered a cerebellum stroke – a rare condition that few survive. She was in a coma for a week. When she awoke, she couldn’t walk, talk, use her arms or hands, she couldn’t do anything; the stroke impacted her life in every way. In the first three months after her stroke she was moved to three different hospitals. Her recovery included three different doctors, as well as therapists and specialists. Doctors told her that the first two years were the most important, that this was when she would learn the most.
“I always say ‘there but for the grace of God’ – I don’t know why I’m alive but I thank my lucky stars every day,” she says.
Audrey is a fighter and giving back is one way that she continues to keep a positive outlook on life.
“Even with my stroke, I’ve always wanted to help others,” she says. “It feels good to give back.”
Audrey has faithfully attended the weekly Brain Injury Drop-In since 2009 and is deeply grateful for the support she receives. COVID19 has meant that the group has been supported by phone calls, online meetings, and most recently with socially-distanced, small group meetings. Audrey has had to learn to use a new cell phone and tablet but despite these challenges, she is grateful for all the support she receives.
“I don’t know what I’d do without Esther,” she says. “She’s been with me right from the very start.”
Audrey is also grateful for her relationship with James and describes him as one of the most generous people she has ever met.
“He is the kind of guy who would give the shirt off his back,” she says. “I’ve never seen anyone like him, he always wants to do something for others.”
Triumph over Trauma
James experienced three separate, traumatic events over the course of his childhood and youth that left him with brain injuries. His first injury came as a result of a car accident at age 5. At age 12 he developed rheumatic fever, which left him paralyzed for months and also caused brain damage. And at the age of 16, he suffered further damage because of one instance of horrific physical abuse.
His initial brain injuries impacted his speech and because he spoke slowly or stuttered, teachers thought he was slow. From kindergarten through to grade 8, he hardly participated in class. Teachers moved him on to the next grade, simply writing “no comment” in his report cards.
“The frustrating thing was that I was smart, I understood what was happening and I was learning but because my speech was affected, no one understood me,” he remembers.
It wasn’t until he was 30 that he was given language for what had happened to him. A psychiatrist considering institutionalization, realized that James was actually quite intelligent. He diagnosed him acquired brain injury.
“This was the first time that I felt understood and that I finally heard someone say that I was intelligent, that I wasn’t stupid,” he says.
Generosity Lived Out
Despite his challenging history, James has always sought to help others.
“I’ve always been a giver, it’s in my nature,” he says.
This shared desire to give makes Audrey and James a great team. They pool their resources to get the ingredients for meals. James is shy by nature but he loves cooking and the kitchen is his domain. He prepares the comforting foods that he remembers his aunties making for their large family: stews, soups, chili, spaghetti. Audrey, who is a self-professed social butterfly, makes the meal deliveries. They do this without any expectation of payment. Sometimes, their generosity is returned.
“Once we received a salmon and another lady gave us some deer sausage,” James says. “Another lady lets us use her parking space, so it’s nice to be able to give her a regular meal in return for that.”
The pandemic has created some extra challenges. James has noted a rise in the cost of food, with even the most basic ingredients offered at a higher price. It’s has meant having to be more selective, which is frustrating when one is already living frugally. The building where they live has a large patio where they have a big herb and vegetable garden and much of these healthy, organic ingredients go into his meals. The garden has also been a place to retreat during COVID.
James also participates in the Brain Injury Drop-In and credits Audrey for introducing him to Esther.
“I’ve been going for ten years and I’ve learned so much from Esther’s teaching about brain injury,” he says. “She has given me an awareness and a new perspective about what’s happened to me.”
Sometimes this new perspective makes him sad, knowing how much in life he has not done. Still, he continues to make the most of his life now. What is clear is that brain injury has not impacted either James nor Audrey’s capacity for generosity.
It is this and their determination to go above and beyond that Esther finds so inspiring.
“So many times we encounter people looking for recognition, power, or gain but these two are humble and caring,” she says. “They have restored my faith in humankind.”