Meet the Santa and Mrs Claus of Jeneece Place
Every Christmas Eve, when Jeneece Place is quiet for the evening, when the holiday baking in the kitchen has wrapped up, and when the Christmas lights are twinkling throughout the home away from home, Santa and Mrs Claus make their way inside, ready to spread festive joy.
And they are bursting with holiday cheer: Santa’s bag is brimming with toys and Mrs Claus is right by his side, ready to help him distribute toys to the children. As they make their way up the Jeneece Place elevator to the rooms where families stay, Santa’s “ho ho ho” echoes throughout the building. And as Santa’s jolly laughter fills Jeneece Place, it’s followed by excited children’s voices.
This is Rob and Susan Dyble. They have volunteered to dress up and visit Jeneece Place as Santa and Mrs Claus every Christmas Eve since 2016.
The couple had been dressing up for friends and family for years, but started visiting Jeneece Place in costume the year their second granddaughter was in Victoria General Hospital’s NICU. Their daughter, son-in-law, and elder granddaughter Kyla were staying in Jeneece Place, away from their Shawnigan Lake home, as the newest addition to their family — another baby girl delivered at just 26 weeks and weighing two pounds, one ounce — received essential health care in the NICU. Because Rob and Susan already had the tradition of dressing up for Christmas Eve, they decided to bring the characters to Jeneece Place to surprise Kyla — and all the other families staying there, too.
They do a little character research before the big day, like reading Christmas stories and practicing Santa’s trademark belly laugh, but the rest comes naturally. They give out gifts to every child (and always buy a few extras, like colouring books and crayons, to make sure every child receives something), Santa welcomes each kid onto his knee, and they pose for the parents taking photos.
For both Rob and Susan, this way of volunteering is a chance to spread a little festive joy and help those staying at Jeneece Place forget the struggles that are keeping them away from their homes during the season.
“One of my favourite memories is when there were some older siblings staying there. They were rolling their eyes at the whole thing. There was a present for them, so they had to come up and sit on Santa’s lap — and they’re rolling their eyes,” laughs Rob. “But by the time the pictures were done, they had big smiles and were laughing. If I can put a smile on someone’s face for just a few minutes, then I want to help them forget what’s going on so they can feel some Christmas spirit.”
Susan agrees, saying that when she sees the excitement on kids’ faces as Santa and Mrs Claus appear, it’s like an exclamation mark highlighting why they do this.
“Tragedy doesn’t know a calendar,” says Susan. “I think the holidays is an awful time for kids to be in hospital or be removed from their home. In what could be the worst time of someone’s life, I feel like we are trying to create a little piece of holiday magic for them.”
While they love the holidays, they do this every Christmas Eve to give back. For them, it’s particularly meaningful to help the adults: their daughter stayed at Jeneece Place twice, as both her daughters were born premature, and less than two years apart. So Rob and Susan know firsthand how hard and stressful it is to see loved ones experience a health challenge.
“When kids hop up on Santa’s knee and the parents take pictures, I think the parents are forgetting their troubles for a split second too,” says Rob. “I think the biggest thing for us is just giving back to Jeneece Place, a place that gave to our family and helped us out so my daughter and son-in-law could be close to my granddaughters.”
Rob and Susan say they play just a small part in what makes Jeneece Place work. They are happy to be part of the home away from home’s army of volunteers on that one special night each year.
And just like the ‘real’ Santa and Mrs Claus, these volunteers show up at Jeneece Place time and time again, exactly one year apart, every Christmas Eve.
Would you like to learn more about volunteering with Children’s Health Foundation of Vancouver Island? Find our more or sign up here.