Giving back to his community through music, love and listening
(Above) Tom Su credits TELUS’ commitment to giving that inspires him to volunteer his time and musical talent with hospital patients and their families. During the pandemic, he has shifted online, recording YouTube videos of himself playing the violin and sharing them with those in need of soothing music. (CONTRIBUTED)
With each person he meets and every stranger he befriends, Tom Su quietly demonstrates the power one person has to make someone else’s world a little better.
It’s a philosophy that drives Tom’s own passion for volunteering -- one that was firmly implanted in his DNA through his beloved father, the late Yeou-Chyuan Su, who taught his children the importance of doing for others, and looking beyond one’s own status or wealth.
“Humanity and kindness are what he exhibited for us,” says Tom of his father’s legacy.
Today, the 50-year-old manager of a TELUS call centre in the Greater Vancouver Area spends his non-working hours helping countless people in need, whether it is assisting Syrian refugees with their resettlement to Canada, mentoring new immigrants as they search for work and adjust to Canadian culture, or playing violin in the West Coast Symphony.
For the past two years, Tom has also served as a Visitor Volunteer at the Burnaby Hospital, spending hour after hour sitting with patients and their families in a bid to ease their minds through the simplicity of human connection. This important volunteer work has now shifted to playing violin virtually, and sharing the videos on his YouTube channel, playing songs for countries hit hardest by COVID. But the goal remains the same, to spread joy and positivity.
Prior to the pandemic, Tom would bring his violin to the hospital – and instead of talking, patients listen to his music, which soothes them and brings a sense of joy and peace to what are often the most challenging times in their lives.
And just as his father taught him, by doing great things in his community, Tom says he has, himself, reaped great rewards.
“Everybody says volunteering is for the people you are helping,” he says. “But, I totally feel the person who benefits is myself, the one doing the volunteering. Every time, when I talk to people, I understand how important care is, our love is and how important the moment is.”
Like all journeys, Tom’s has not been without its difficulties. He came to Canada from Taiwan in 2003. Part of the management team at a five-star hotel in Taiwan, he struggled to find a job in his new home country. His language skills were said to be lacking; he was told he didn’t know the culture, and so he searched to find work.
Along the way, however, he found TELUS, which gave him a boost – and a platform from which to continue to help his community.
The company was advertising for a team manager who could speak Mandarin. Tom speaks a number of languages, and felt he had a shot. At his interview, he explained that as a musician in an orchestra he is trained to find harmony and balance all around him – great skills for a manager.
TELUS agreed. Twelve years later, Tom continues to create harmony at his company, inspired by values that match his own. TELUS continuously strives to earn its reputation as Canada’s most-giving company, encouraging volunteerism among its 85,000 team members worldwide through flexible work hours and sponsored “TELUS Days of Giving” that make it possible for employees to volunteer and support the causes closest to their hearts, whether that’s sorting food at local food banks, filling backpacks with school supplies for children in need or serving healthy meals to the hungry.
Since March, as the world learned to grapple with the COVID-19 crisis, TELUS has committed more than $150 million during the past several months to support Canadians through COVID-19. TELUS is also nearing their goal of 1.2 million volunteer hours this year, as the TELUS team has already donated 1 million volunteer hours through safe and virtual giving.
Tom says it was the company’s commitment to giving that pushed him to volunteer his time with the Burnaby Hospital’s Volunteer Visitor program.
Lisa Westerhout, manager of volunteer resources for the hospital, says patients would light up when Tom came to see them.
“He is just so present,” she says of the spirit he brings to the role. “It is such a lovely gift to have someone who will just listen.”
She has also listened to him play his violin to patients in the palliative care ward, and watched how he has brought a sense of calm to them in that moment.
But it’s Tom’s commitment to the wellbeing of others that often makes the biggest impact. He once met an elderly couple admitted to the hospital at the same time, but, to separate floors. He saw immediately how important it was that they be connected.
“I said to myself, ‘Come on, I am working in the telecom industry, how can I help this couple talk to each other?’” he recalls.
He figured it out. He used his smartphone to tape their messages to each other, and then shuffled between floors, playing them back. It was old-fashioned, but it served the purpose and the couple was delighted.
It is these instances -- and there are many -- that make him an exceptional volunteer, though Tom, true to character, draws a deeper lesson.
“Every single story makes me feel how we can seize the moment and make sure every moment in our life is the most important,” he says.
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