Long-time volunteer Jim Long keeps Hope in Bloom

Debbie Davis, left, CEO of Parkinson Society Canada Central & Northern Ontario, presents an award to long-time volunteer and supporter Jim Long.
Debbie Davis and Jim Long.

When Jim Long first agreed to help raise money for the Parkinson’s cause, he found himself at another volunteer’s house helping to arrange masses of tulips into bouquets. Then he and his fellow volunteers headed off to the streets of Toronto to sell these tulips in support of people living with Parkinson’s.

Things have certainly changed since those early days in the 1980s. “Just recently, with my 24 volunteers, we sold 72 boxes of tulips, and raised some $9,000 in a single day at Union Station,” says Jim.

The campaign has blossomed since those first years in Toronto. There are now 26 venues with blooms delivered directly from the growers; no more gatherings in homes to make up bouquets! There are logistics, promotion, and an army of volunteers to organize. As a member of the Hope in Bloom organizing committee, Jim’s executive skills truly shine. A retired housing developer, Jim helps staff and volunteers to grow and improve the campaign that takes place each spring. He’s very proud that the Toronto campaign raised more than $142,000 this year.

Jim has worked with a number of Parkinson Society staff over the years and has even participated in the interview process. He was on the committee when Helen Wong was hired as Community Development Coordinator (Toronto), responsible for the Hope in Bloom campaign. As a dedicated, respected, long-term volunteer, Jim is happy to help new staff and volunteers with their orientation by providing historical information and hands-on advice.

“Jim shared the history of the tulip campaign with me, along with his other knowledge and insights,” says Wong. “He’s been a very helpful guide to this aspect of my new position.”

Naseem Jamal, now Manager, Major & Planned Giving, Parkinson Society Central and Northern Ontario, worked with Jim for more than three years on the campaign, and echoes that sentiment. “Jim will just do whatever is needed. He is kind hearted and tenacious,” she says. “He helps train and assist new venue captains. He scopes out new sales sites and meets with property managers. He does whatever it takes to make life easier for the rest of us.”

No surprise then that Jim finds the toughest thing about volunteering with the organization is the desire to bring more immediate relief to those living with the disease. He remembers the challenges faced by his sister Pat, who was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s disease in 1972. “I took her to a Parkinson’s education presentation once. She was in a wheelchair by then, weaving and bobbing with dyskinesia and in pain. She was embarrassed being in public and at the end of the presentation, she asked me: ‘What are they doing for me?’”

Jim keeps his sister’s question in mind when he makes his contributions to the Hope in Bloom campaign. “The money we are raising is used for research for a cure and to give people with Parkinson’s and their families the information and support they need. We’re just doing it by selling tulips to raise the necessary funds.”

There is also something fundamentally satisfying about selling flowers in the spring. “We love the grey weather days,” says Jim. “There are more people coming by our indoor venues and the fresh, colourful blooms are hard to resist.” Jim remembers one customer who gathered up about 15 bouquets to distribute to people in his office. “We saw how pleased he was to be giving them out, and you could just imagine how happy the people would be who received a bouquet.”

Jim is also compelled to spread the springtime blooms around. By 1997 Pat resided at North York Senior Health Centre and Jim purchased several boxes of tulips himself and delivered them to the centre, as well as other senior centres in the area. He has continued to make these donations every year since. Sometimes the tulips provide a welcome touch of spring around the residences. And other times the centres sell some of them to raise funds to improve life for their residents.

“We all win,” says Jim. “The Parkinson Society gets the money I pay for the tulips and the senior centres and their residents enjoy the beauty of the flowers and raise funds for their own initiatives. We all help to increase awareness of Parkinson’s disease.”

At 84 years of age, Jim is concerned about recruiting future volunteers. He serves as a venue “Captain” for the campaign, usually working a day at Scotia Plaza downtown, as well as doing the organizing committee work. His daughter Julie and grandson Matthew have helped out on occasion. He likes to encourage others, young and older, to get involved and give back to society.

“For the young, volunteering is a great habit to embrace and it can be a wonderful family activity. For older and retired people, volunteering keeps them active and they can interact with all kinds of people.” says Jim. “This is my time to give back and make a difference.”

Did you know…  On April 11, 2005, the Red Tulip was launched as the worldwide symbol of Parkinson’s disease at the 9th World Parkinson’s disease Day Conference in Luxembourg.