Phone calls and handmade cards brought joy to some elderly Australians during lockdown this year.

The Australian Multicultural Community Services has been running Volunteer Visiting Programs for almost 30 years, however, when the pandemic hit last year, most seniors were reluctant to accept home visits.

Milena Schaedler, AMCS Volunteer Coordinator, said clients were upset and depressed.

Milena Schaedler

“They were afraid at the beginning to have visitors, so they felt really isolated, scared [and] depressed,” she told Community Care Review.

“They tried to stay in touch but some of them refused visits and go on the phone calls only, some of them were on hold.”

When Victoria went into lockdown this year, AMCS started online bilingual Bingo sessions and a monthly newsletter called Postal Friend to keep clients and volunteers engaged.

Phone calls and handmade cards also replaced in-person catch-ups.

Restarting visits

Now that restrictions are easing, AMCS is slowly restarting the visitation programs.  

The purpose of the programs is to provide friendship and companionship through one-on-one visits to older Australians who are socially isolated or at risk of social isolation.

“[They are] socially isolated because of the language or they don’t have any other family…and feel they need some support,” Ms Schaedler said.

There are three programs to match with volunteers, including Community Visitors Scheme; Home Care, Community Visitors Scheme; and Residential Care and Social Support Individual.

“I will try to find someone who speaks the same language and similar hobbies,” Ms Schaedler said.

“That volunteer comes just to spend some time with that person and provide some support and just stay and listen to them.”

How they spend their time together will depend on the clients’ needs. They can go for a coffee or take a walk in the community.

“We are human beings, we are not robots; so, we don’t just need a meal and clean house, we need someone to talk to us.” – Milena Schaedler, AMCS Volunteer Coordinator

Meeting social needs

Most clients are already receiving care and support at home through other services, such as cleaning, but these don’t address their social needs, Ms Schaedler said.

“Usually people who come, they don’t have time to sit down and spend quality time with them,” she said.

“So, the volunteer just come to spend time with them and listen to them to provide mental support.”

Ms Schaedler believes this is very important.

“We are human beings, we are not robots; so, we don’t just need a meal and clean house, we need someone to talk to us because we have feelings,” she said.  

Volunteers are required to spend at least an hour with clients, however, visits can go on for longer.

“Sometimes, if the connection is good, the volunteers spend two, three or four hours together,” Ms Schaedler said.

Mutually beneficial

Zofia (middle) was gifted with flowers, a voucher and a certificate for her milestone volunteering anniversary.

The program has also been helpful to volunteers.

Zofia Sztendur, 77, has been volunteering with AMCS for over 25 years. When she moved from Poland to Australia, she couldn’t speak English at all.

She wanted to connect with the Polish community and found AMCS and was able to connect with the Polish community in Melbourne.

Ms Sztendur is now beginning to receive phone calls from other volunteers and has been joining in the online Bingo sessions.

First meeting after lockdown

Ms Schaedler recently accompanied a volunteer to visit a client. The two had not had a chance to meet in person because of the lockdown.

“They were so excited, so happy … I can feel the connection; they talked about gardening, they go out and I could go out and they wouldn’t even notice,” she said.

“It was so good to see that connection that they built over the phone during the lockdown and when they met first time they were so happy together.”

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