In that 10 minutes, he had gone from feeling “not very well” to fondly reminiscing about his beloved hobby — sailing.
In the scheme of things, a 10-minute conversation may seem insignificant, but in that moment, I could see the positive changes manifest in him.
It’s those little moments that reminded me why companion volunteers play such an important role for aged care residents.
Mid last year, when COVID was still at its height and didn’t appear to be going away, I began volunteering at MercyCare Kelmscott Residential Aged Care Home.
The idea was born when I paid a visit to the home in April 2021, as MercyCare’s Communications Officer, to cover an ANZAC Day story on one of the home’s beloved residents, and I instantly fell love with the place.
Being there reminded me of what it would be like to have grandparents who would share their incredible stories and memories with you over a cuppa.
From the moment I walked through the doors, I was welcomed with open arms and felt an instant connection to the residents and the place they called home.
It then got me thinking about volunteering.
The more I looked into it, the more I came to realise how invaluable volunteers are in aged care, whether it’s providing that one-on-one support or assisting in a group activity.
By June, I started volunteering at Kelmscott, where I witnessed firsthand the power of human connection and social interaction.
Spending just 10 minutes with residents reminiscing about their pastime, browsing through family photo albums or simply asking them about their favourite hobbies is more powerful than you can imagine.
But as much as I enjoyed the one-on-one experiences, spending time with residents in a group setting was equally enjoyable.
In my time volunteering at Kelmscott, I’ve been involved in numerous group activities.
I’ve engaged in some humorous banter with residents over a cuppa during their regular ‘coffee club’ gatherings, played a few rounds of BINGO (which may sound cliché but it’s thoroughly entertaining for all involved), tested my baking skills while making cupcakes during a sit down cooking session, hosted a Christmas craft activity which involved making festive cards and gift tags and hopped on a bus to enjoy an outing which is often suggested by one of the residents.
On occasion, my six-year-old son (who, like me, has a genuine knack for helping others) has joined me during my volunteer stints, and to see the pure joy on the residents’ faces as they interact with him is heart-warming.
All-in-all, spending time with residents has taught me to live in the moment, appreciate what we have and enjoy the simple things in life.
Each time I leave Kelmscott after spending a few hours with the residents, I find comfort in the fact that I’m making a difference in their lives, even if it is small.
They may not remember me next time I visit, or there may be days where they don’t feel up to taking part in a group activity or one-on-one conversation, and that’s OK.
We often see or hear a call for more volunteers, particularly from not-for-profit organisations, and if you look at the economic impacts, it’s not hard to see why.
According to Volunteering WA, there are more than 600,000 volunteers in WA alone who contribute more than $39 billion a year to our State’s economy.
But economic value aside, volunteers have an immeasurable social and cultural impact for the organisation, people or community they serve.
People volunteer for a variety of reasons — to build new skills, meet new people and make connections with others, apply their existing skills in a positive way or simply to help others.
To me, volunteering is more than just an act of giving up your time for others in your community.
It’s so much more than that — it’s a combination of putting the needs of others before your own, while also fulfilling a sense of purpose in life for both yourself and the person you’re serving.
Being a volunteer has not only taught me about the power of human connection and social interaction, it’s also shown me that, while I can make a difference in the residents’ lives, they too can make a difference in mine.
Written by Vanessa Williams, Communications Officer at MercyCare