If you were drafting an all-star team of volunteers, Matthew Mueller would be a number one choice.
The 24-year-old brings a unique set of skills, education, passion and community-mindedness to Niagara.
Originally from Dundas, Mueller, a graduate of Brock University, has chosen to make Thorold his home.
He recently completed his Masters Degree in Molecular and Cell Biology and has accepted a position with the Norgen Biotek Corporation, also in Thorold.
But, three years ago, as he was finishing his undergraduate degree, also at Brock, Mueller began providing completely unique and valuable components to Niagara's sea of volunteers.
He decided to put his education to work for the betterment of the community and at the same time, understand the practical applications of his chosen research.
"My research project was studying Alzheimer's disease and trying to understand more about it, but also developing new ways to screen pharmaceuticals to detect side effects early on in the process," he explained to ThoroldNews.
"I thought I was doing a lot in the lab but didn't know a lot about the disease and wanted to do more to help with the community right now," he added.
He recounted how he became involved.
"I had a friend who volunteered with the Alzheimer Society so thought it would be a great opportunity to be part of the community and to help people more directly and develop friendships along the way."
In the summer of 2017 Mueller began with the Alzheimer Society of Niagara.
"I started volunteering with the Minds in Motion Program in St. Catharines and the YMCA in Welland. And then I became part of the Friendly Visitor Program," he explained.
The Minds in Motion Program is designed to incorporate physical and mental stimulation for people with early to mid-stage dementia and their caregivers. In fact, the program was developed by a team from Brock's Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies. The Friendly Visitor Program pairs trained volunteers with people in the community living with dementia. Together, they engage in meaningful activities.
Despite having completed his Masters Degree and taking on a full-time job in the Norgen labs, Mueller continues volunteering with the Friendly Visitor Program.
"The Society teamed me up with an individual in the community. I go to their apartment once a week, check up on them, and socialize. That's what I like about the Friendly Visitor program. The hours are very flexible so you just work out a schedule with the individual for a time that works for both. You get to know each other pretty well. I've become close to the person to whom I'm paired. It's been really great," Mueller declared.
Denise Verreault, Director of Programs and Services at the Alzheimer Society told ThoroldNews volunteers are essential to all their programming and said, "It is wonderful to have Matthew participating in our programs and getting to know people who are living with dementia and their caregivers."
"And," she added, "I am confident that his hands-on experience is unlike anything that can be learned in a textbook."
Meuller's volunteer work didn't begin or end with the Alzheimer Society. Having moved to Thorold only six years ago, he quickly developed a pattern of helping others. From 2017 until this past summer he volunteered at the Niagara Centre for Health and Well Being.
"I was a personal exercise support worker, part of the Niagara Centre for Health and Well Being at spinal cord rehabilitation centre. I was helping people with Multiple Sclerosis or spinal cord injuries - almost like a personal trainer," he explained.
Also in the summer of 2017, he volunteered with the Migrant Worker Health Centre; a temporary clinic with Spanish translators. The clinics are organized by Quest Community Health Centre in St. Catharines as part of its migrant agricultural worker program.
"It's an accessible place for migrant agricultural workers. It was a cool thing to be a part of," said Mueller.
Meanwhile, Mueller's university research is continuing to provide hope for dementia patients.
"We're still working on finalizing the method but will soon publish and make it available to pharmaceutical companies or research companies to use in their lab setting," he revealed.
"So far, it looks really promising and we've made some new discoveries as well. And Brock is continuing to put people towards the study. Eventually, we'd like to use that method to screen potentially new drugs and pharmaceuticals," he added.
The Norgen job offers new challenges to Mueller.
"Norgen is a genetics company. Their techniques are new to me and the field is new to me. I've been there for about 10 months and I've learned a lot, becoming more comfortable working in the lab there. They're not doing anything related to Alzheimer's disease but do provide a lot of products and services for other groups around the world working on health and medical research."
Mueller's girlfriend, Allanah Quinn, who is studying business at Niagara College, also moved to Niagara recently so the couple has settled into their adopted city.
And as for his future volunteer work. Mueller assured, "I plan on being with the Friendly Visitor program for the long haul."