Thunderbird House COVID-19 Test Site
If, as comedian Brian Regan once said, the biggest rule for being a hero is not thinking you're a hero, Val Ballantyne-Lewis officially makes the cut.
Val has been providing testing support in a variety of ways for the team at Thunderbird House (TBH), Winnipeg's only Indigenous-led, low-barrier COVID-19 testing site, located on the southeast corner of Main Street and Higgins Avenue. To hear her tell it, she's just offering a "human touch" by showing each client, staff person and visitor with respect. For the people walking through the doors of this unique testing site, however, her friendly face exemplifies the dedication of her team and offers a sense of calm during a stressful time.
Val spends her time at Thunderbird House performing a number of duties. One of those is cleaning and sanitizing the facility and making sure everyone has access to, and is wearing, a mask. As clients make their way through various stations, she makes sure every surface they touch is sanitized for the next person. She also keeps the test site stocked with food and supplies.
At other times, she is a welcoming face at the entrance door, or a calming presence for children who are understandably anxious about having to sit for a nasal swab. When working the exit door, she is quick to offer clients food and drink. She also takes the time to speak with clients who present at TBH in their native Cree language - to help put them at ease or to offer information.
When not at Thunderbird House, Val works across the street at Aboriginal Health and Wellness Centre of Winnipeg (AHWC), working with as a teaching assistant with children ages three and four in the AHWC's Head Start program. The program offers traditional teachings, arts and crafts and smudging, and helps prepare the children for kindergarten by teaching them about letters, shapes, and colours. She has also been an activity worker at AHWC, working with adults experiencing homelessness or at risk of becoming homeless. Participants go on field trips and take part in cooking classes, arts and crafts, and willow and driftwood harvesting.
As one of her co-workers explained, "Val is very kind to people and shows endless patience. I have watched her work at various stations at the test site and have seen her help people through the different steps of the testing process. Val is also very observant and aware of everything that is going on at Thunderbird House; she is always present and ready to help. Her sense of humor and warm personality are very reassuring, and I believe so valuable in situations where people may feel stressed or fearful."
That certainly sounds like a hero to us.