Diane Pennock bounced so cheerfully into her daily volunteer work at The Salvation Army’s Ottawa Booth Centre that people had a special way of greeting her.
“Here comes Smiley,” clients and staff alike would call out. She would respond with an even bigger grin.
Diane bubbled with enthusiasm as she assisted in the kitchen by helping on the serving line or making 300 bagged lunches a day for distribution to street people in need.
But Diane didn’t get that way without facing devastating trials that made her the person she is now.
From Heartbreak to Helping
In 1983, she lost her beloved brother, Percy, when he was only 28. Her faith in God was also severely tested by the death of other close family members and a divorce in 1994.
“I was left with a new challenge of being a single mom of two teenagers,” she recalls.
Fortunately she was already well established in a management career at the Scotiabank, where she’d worked since graduating with honours from high school in 1971. Though her job allowed her to provide modestly for herself, her son and daughter, nothing was left over for worthy causes. But she was determined to find a way to give.
Growing up on a farm in Blakeney, Ont., as the oldest of seven, Diane was accustomed to working hard and coming up with innovative solutions to seemingly intractable problems. The answer to her donation dilemma turned out to be sharing time, financial expertise, management talents and compassion instead of money. Over the years, she volunteered at organizations including Kiwanis, the United Way and the Ottawa Food Bank.
Despite the challenges Diane had already weathered, her greatest trial was yet to come.
A routine cancer screening in 2001 revealed a mass in her left breast that would require surgery. The timing couldn’t have been worse. During the months she was away for surgery and rehabilitation, the bank made staff changes that threatened Diane’s hard-earned position.
“This was the lowest point in my life,” she says. “I was afraid of what the surgery would reveal while, at the same time, efforts were being made at work to strip me of my career accomplishments.”
The double whammy was more than she could handle. She hit bottom with a thud, even attempting suicide at one point. Excellent counselling, combined with her faith in God, helped her regain the mental strength to fight for her health and her job.
“I decided to stop focusing on my own problems and to start helping
others again,” she explains. “I had no idea that volunteering my time to serve others would help me to heal, but it did.”
Valued and Valuable
That search led her to The Salvation Army.
“While I volunteered at a variety of places, I decided to focus on the Army for a number of reasons,” Diane explains. “Clients seemed to appreciate what the Army offered them. The employees I worked with appreciated what I did. And my research showed that the organization was well managed and able to assist a large, diverse group of people.”
When she began volunteering at the Ottawa Booth Centre, she showed up at the facility every morning, whether she felt up to it or not. The centre houses about 90 men with various physical and mental challenges and has a lounge where homeless people can eat and tend to personal needs.
As Diane helped others, she simultaneously felt her health and joy returning. It was there that she was first called “Smiley” and was presented with a certificate of appreciation for her work.
“I displayed that certificate on the wall of my office at the bank until I retired 13 years later,” Diane says proudly.