One of the 15 recipients of the 2021 Ontario Senior Achievement Award is a woman from Bracebridge. 

Sonja Smith boasts 60 years of volunteer experience at The Pines Long-Term Care Home and with the South Muskoka Memorial Hospital Auxiliary. With so many years of volunteering behind her, you would think she would have a hard time remembering it all, but that’s not the case. Currently, she says she helps organize trips for residents of the long-term care home. “We take the residents out to Orillia for tea, or in town for lunch,” she explains, adding she always enjoys going on the trips. Smith also organizes the evening entertainment. For the past 25 years, she has worked at the hospital in downtown Bracebridge in various roles, but most recently in the auxiliary’s gift shop. Aside from those two jobs, she’s also delivered meals on wheels for the past six years and has volunteered with an intergenerational group in the area for the “young and the young at heart.”

“To tell you the truth, when they first called and said I would have to go the city, I knew I would have to get a ride with someone so I wasn’t totally pickled and I don’t think I sounded very enthusiastic,” she humorously says, adding that it was “lovely to get and lovely to be recognized.” The ceremony ended up being held virtually. 

Smith was nominated for the award by Bracebridge Councillor Steven Clement, who she first met in 2018 when she received the Bracebridge Senior Achievement Award during the town’s 2018 volunteer and sports awards ceremony. 

Administration Manager for The Pines Kim Gibbs says volunteers like Smith are vital. “We count on them for everything,” she says, adding that they know the residents as well – sometimes better – than staff, so having someone who is so dedicated like Sonja is incredible. “She is an exceptional volunteer.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a halt to most of her volunteering work, but recently she’s been able to resume her duties. “We just started back at The Pines,” she says. Smith was at the residence on Wednesday for its 60th anniversary party. “I really missed it during COVID,” she adds. “You miss the connection.”

The province has handed out the Senior Achievement Award every year since 1987 to recognize people who have made outstanding contributions to their communities through voluntary or professional activities after the age of 65. In total, 660 seniors have been honoured.