Celebrating aged care volunteers

National Volunteer Week pays tribute to the almost 6 million Australians who donate their time to a good cause.

Residential, home care and disability services provider VMCH is paying tribute to one of its longest-serving volunteers this week. As part of its National Volunteer Week celebrations, the Melbourne-based non-profit provider is presenting Carol Pickering with a service award to mark her 45 years volunteering at the Catholic organisation. Now 80 years of age, Ms Pickering began volunteering at VMCH in 1979 when she was 35. Ms Pickering’s grandmother inspired her to become a volunteer.

“I grew up with my grandmother for a little while and she was always very loving,” Ms Pickering said. “I just enjoy volunteering so much, being affectionate and to help people. There are so many people out there who don’t have anybody.”

Ms Pickering began volunteering at VMCH when it was known as Villa Maria Society for the Blind. “There was one woman, Doris, who was blind and deaf,” Ms Pickering said. “I learnt how to do the letters of the alphabet on her hands so she could understand me. She was so wonderful. She was almost a second grandma at the time.”

Carol Pickering

After volunteering within VMCH’s disability services for a while, Ms Pickering now donates her time at the organisation’s residential aged care home in Berwick. “A typical day would see me going around saying hello to everyone,” Ms Pickering said. “There are some people who are very lonely. One man is blind, so I go and sit with him and we play games.”

Ms Pickering encourages others to give volunteering a go. “I’ve gotten so much happiness from volunteering. It’s been a great experience.”

Bron Summers

Bron Summers – responsible for volunteer engagement at VMCH – describes Ms Pickering’s compassion and commitment as “extraordinary”.

“Luckily for VMCH, we have many wonderful people like Carol who dedicate their time, skills and passions to brighten the lives of others,” Ms Summers said. “Whether through engaging with our aged care residents, helping out in our op shops or supporting people with disabilities with community activities, the dedication and kindness of our 440 volunteers continues to humble us. We thank them for everything they do as part of our extended workforce, not only during National Volunteer Week, but every day.”

Western Australia-based in-home care provider Silverchain is also paying tribute to one of its volunteers – Tarja Abbott – who started volunteering for the organisation in 2020 as a way to give back to the community during her retirement.

In 2023, Ms Abbott provided support for one of Silverchain’s palliative care clients – Wally Kewley – who had been diagnosed with brain cancer. When Silverchain offered Mr Kewley volunteer care, his wife Jackie wasn’t sure it was warranted. “But after Tarja’s first visit, I quickly realised what a huge difference that little bit of extra care made for me and Wally,” Ms Kewley said. “Once a fortnight I used the time for all sorts of things, whether it’s going to the hairdresser, running errands or catching up with friends. I’ve really loved having the service provided to us.”

Before Mr Kewley passed away in March this year, he shared how much he appreciated the extra company. “Tarja and I will have a cup of coffee and chat about different things or just enjoy watching a movie,” he said. “She tells me interesting things about her home in Finland, which is one of the countries we visited during a Baltic cruise.”

Lily Meszaros

Ms Abbott is one of a number of Silverchain volunteers who provide support for its palliative care clients. Lily Meszaros – Silverchain’s volunteer resources manager – said its volunteers are offered an opportunity to make a significant difference to people’s lives. “Volunteers such as Tarja can make such a valuable contribution to the quality of life for people living with advanced, progressive or life-limiting illnesses – as well as providing respite for their carers.”

Aged and community care provider Uniting NSW.ACT has more than 1,400 volunteers working alongside 120 teams – 500 volunteers signed up to help out across the not-for-profit’s network of 75 aged care homes last year alone.

Gail Yap

“During Covid we saw the number of volunteers drop off significantly, particularly in 2020,” said Uniting NSW.ACT volunteering lead Gail Yap. “So to see those numbers come back, even more than pre-pandemic days, is really heartening.”

Volunteers play a critical role in helping aged care residents remain connected to the community, said Ms Yap. “When it becomes harder to visit the community, volunteers bring the community to them.”

She added: “This National Volunteer Week we really want to acknowledge the vital contribution our volunteers make to, not just our aged care residents, but also in helping our staff.”

Volunteering is such a beautiful and selfless thing to do

ACH Group CEO Linda Feldt

South Australian not-for-profit community organisation ACH Group is using National Volunteer Week to highlight the unlikely bond forged between teenage volunteer Edward Mickan and client Ken Elliott.

The 17-year-old high school student dedicates an hour of his time each Sunday to catch up with 89-year-old Mr Elliott. “[Edward] just sort of showed up one day and we sort of just immediately got on well together,” Mr Elliott said. “He makes a hell of a difference in my life when he visits. It just brightens my day. He is always smiling and always has something good to say, which is exactly what I need.”

Edward Mickan and Ken Elliott

Mr Mickan also benefits from the intergenerational relationship. “Our connection very much goes both ways,” he said. “I’m excited to come here every Sunday. It has been a joy to learn about Ken’s life.”

Cate Balfour-Ogilvy

ACH Group volunteer coordinator Cate Balfour-Ogilvy said, although Covid caused aged care volunteer numbers to dwindle, the past two years has seen a resurgence – particularly among younger people. “Young people are coming out of the woodwork to volunteer for us. I think a lot of the time the first motivating factor is that volunteering will help career prospects, but once they start volunteering it really gets under their skin.”

ACH chief executive officer Linda Feldt said the impact the group’s 160 registered volunteers have on the quality of lives of its residents and customers is huge. “Volunteering is such a beautiful and selfless thing to do, and I’d like to thank all the volunteers across South Australia for the contribution they make.”

National Volunteer Week

Running from 20-26 May, National Volunteer Week places a focus on the almost 6 million people who volunteer through an Australian organisation annually – including around 12,000 people who volunteer in aged care homes.

CEO of Volunteering Australia Mark Pearce said people can volunteer in various ways.“Getting involved in volunteering can be as simple as sharing your expertise and interests, helping out in your local community, or drawing on your lived experience to support others. There really is a volunteer role for everyone.”

Mark Pearce

A new report from Volunteering Australia shows that, due to the cost-of-living crisis, people are finding it difficult to prioritise volunteering, or afford the associated costs, such as transport or fuel.

“We have every reason to be optimistic despite the challenges being faced,” said Mr Pearce. “We know volunteering helps people to maintain social connections and gives people a powerful sense of purpose. In coming together to create a thriving and effective volunteering ecosystem, volunteers are maintaining social cohesion and helping others who are struggling.”

People wanting to volunteer are encouraged to visit the GoVolunteer website, contact their state or territory volunteering peak body or approach organisations in their local community.

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Tags: national volunteer week, Silverchain, Uniting NSW.ACT, vmch, Volunteering Australia,

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