We thank our volunteer visitors who provide companionship to those living in aged care facilities
Living in an aged care facility can be lonely and isolating, especially for the 40 per cent of Australian residents who get no visitors at all.
But a very special group of volunteers have been helping to alleviate this isolation by providing companionship to elderly people living in Sydney Local Health District.
The Community Visitors Scheme matches volunteer visitors with aged care residents from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
This month, the District celebrated 25 years of running the scheme in nursing homes and aged care facilities in Sydney with a high tea to acknowledge, celebrate and thank our volunteer visitors.
The District’s Aged, Chronic Care and Rehabilitation Operations Manager Julie-Ann O’Keeffe said there are now 243 volunteer visitors who speak 35 different languages visiting 366 residents in 97 facilities.
“Our VIPs today are you, our volunteers. We are here to say thank you and to really recognise the genuine difference you make to the quality of life of the people that you visit,” she said.
Valerie Chu and Jeannie Tam carefully match residents with visitor volunteers, who often share formative experiences, such as the loss of a homeland and starting afresh in a new country.
Latvian-speaking volunteer visitor Anda Black said she has forged a strong connection with many of the residents she visits.
“My Latvian friends are particularly close to me as we share the same refugee experience of exile and settling into a new culture across the world; starting a new life from scratch, with no material possessions, no social status, language skills, or a recognised qualification,” she said.
“It is always fascinating hearing someone’s life story and I feel humbled and honoured when a new friend is happy to share their story, thoughts and fears.
“My aim each visit is to coax a smile and a laugh from my friend.”
Klara Oust, the Leisure Coordinator at Presbyterian Homes, Ashfield, said she has taken great joy from seeing friendships develop and grow.
“Let me tell you about one particular lady in our facility. She has quite a few children, none of them visit. She doesn’t feel right when other people have visitors and when we learned that, we organised for one of you beautiful people.
“Now she is having regular visits. She refers to the Community Visitors Scheme worker as ‘my friend’,” Klara said.
A special presentation was made to four volunteer visitors who have been with the scheme since it began in 1993.
Ann Kapocius, a Lithuanian speaker, Paula Zelynski, a Ukrainian speaker, Johanna Massaar, a Dutch speaker and Helen Lam, a Cantonese-speaker volunteer, were acknowledged for their extraordinary contribution by the District’s chief executive Dr Teresa Anderson AM.
“This is really what leadership, community and friendship is all about,” Dr Anderson said.
“We are so grateful to the four of you for providing such great leadership to the rest of us.”
The District’s Director of Aged Care Rehab Dr John Cullen believes the scheme is an important way to promote wellbeing among older residents, particularly those who are experiencing cognitive decline and typically revert to their native language.
“The quality, scale, sustainability of our scheme is remarkable. The volunteers and managers are amazing,” he said.
Many volunteer visitors say they view their participation in the scheme as a way of “giving back” to the community, but Anda said visitors get just as much out of the scheme as residents.
“Whenever I set off on a visit, I secretly smile thinking of all the other visitors quietly making their way across town to spend time with an isolated person,” Anda said.
Photos and videos of the 25th anniversary celebrations are available at SydneyConnect.
To find out more about the scheme, visit https://www.slhd.nsw.gov.au/acrs/cvs.html