Volunteer creates lasting memories – one tile at a time

Published on
April 18, 2023
Home and community

When you look at the big picture, you realize life is not one expansive canvass. It’s more like a montage of individual pieces that fit perfectly together – made up special memories and people who leave a lasting impression. As an employee and later as a volunteer, Madison Rea assembled a unique bond with some remarkable people who touched her life and created a long-lasting image of a caring community through a wall mural at the Garry J. Armstrong Long-Term Care Home.

Madison Rea, wearing a medical mask, standing in front of a mural made of colourful tiles
Madison Rea, City employee and volunteer, stands by the new wall mural at Garry J. Armstrong.

The wall mural was a project that was undertaken by Madison when she worked as a long-term care helper at Garry J. Armstrong. Long-term care helpers assist in all areas and departments at the home – including social activities. With her fine arts degree from the University of Ottawa, it was only natural that Madison undertook a special arts project with her group of senior residents.

Madison worked at Garry J. Armstrong during the height of the pandemic. “The pandemic impacted morale at the centre,” recounted Madison. “There were several outbreaks that resulted in residents being confined to their areas, not being able socialize with other residents. The mural project allowed each person to contribute to the artwork and enjoy one-on-one interaction – providing some light of hope during those darker days.”

The mural involved residents taking an individual subway tile and creating their own design using various coloured Sharpie pens. Rubbing alcohol was then applied to the tile, giving it a colourful and vibrant abstract look. The tiles were then placed collectively on the wall. The artwork quickly became a popular social pastime in this special community.


A wall mural made of colourful, abstract tiles

Mural made of individual tiles designed by Gary J. Armstrong residents

People were super into it,” said Madison. “And it wasn’t just the residents who got into it. Nursing staff, other long-term care helpers, and even family members began to take part in the project.”

She was amazed how many of the residents had artistic backgrounds. “Everyone was able to contribute to their ability,” commented Madison. “It was an inclusive project, even for those residents suffering from various stages of dementia.”  Madison also added residents were enthusiastic about participating, as it served as an escape during the difficult days of COVID in the home.

When the mural project was three-quarters complete, Madison landed a new career with the Business Support Services branch in the City’s Recreation, Cultural, and Facility Services department. But Madison didn’t abandon this special art project that was near and dear to her and the residents.

Madison returned to Garry J. Armstrong, this time as a volunteer, to help complete this art project that captured the spirit and heart of this community. “This is more than a facility, it’s a community and a home,” reflected Madison. “How could I not come back? They are so dear to me.  Their faces lit up with smiles with a big hello when I returned to work with them on this art piece.”

The residents’ wall mural is nearing completion.  Madison has plans to add a silhouette overlay on the tiles. The silhouettes would be a snapshot of those special people she bonded with at Garry J. Armstrong.

“Life at the home is cyclical, unfortunately,” reflected Madison. “People you connect with in the home eventually leave the facility or pass away. Whether you do it as a job or a volunteer, you never remember the work accomplished at the workplace, but you always remember the people and the moments.”

Even though the silhouettes have not been overlayed, some community members depicted on the wall have since passed. In the end, this was more than art project; it was a labour of love. The mural will serve as a lasting picture – a memory – of those special people and moments that blessed the lives of those who lived, worked and volunteered at the Garry J. Armstrong home.

April 16 to 23 is National Volunteer Week. Create your memorable moments by exploring volunteering opportunities at ottawa.ca/volunteer