CatholicCare’s friendship program ending social isolation for our seniors

June 2, 2021

Kathleen Herz knows what it feels like to be lonely, following the death of her husband some years ago, and it was this experience which prompted her to fill that gap for others by volunteering with CatholicCare Diocese of Broken Bay’s Community Visitors Scheme.

“When I lost my husband, I realised how lonely it was for people being by themselves,” she says.

“I’d been trying to decide how I could volunteer to spend time with people who may be experiencing loneliness when I saw the Community Visitors Scheme advertised in the Manly Daily.”

Kathleen says she was drawn towards visiting elderly people.

“I feel more of a rapport with elderly people than the young,” she says.

So, following an extensive interview and vetting process, she was delighted to be matched up with local aged care facility resident Sophie, who will turn 100 later this year.

She has now been visiting Sophie every fortnight for four years and the two have formed a beautiful friendship.

“I usually spend a couple of hours with Sophie, mostly on the weekend, because I work full-time,” she says.

“For the first few years we would spend time chatting in her room or in the lounge area, or, if it was a sunny day we would go outside.

“Then I thought it would be nice to take her out occasionally, so I asked her family if it was okay for me to do that and now we sometimes go for a drive in the car or have coffee or lunch.

“Recently we went out and got an icecream and then sat in the car, looking out at the water.

“Occasionally I’ll do something practical, like cut her fingernails, but mostly we just chat.”

Kathleen says Sophie has had a long and interesting life and her reminiscences are fascinating.

“She turns 100 in July and it’s just a delight to have this connection with someone who is older and who has so much to share. She is so entertaining. She makes me laugh.”

During the COVID lockdown when visitors were banned from aged care facilities, Kathleen would phone Sophie so they could maintain their regular chats.

“That was a difficult time. It’s lonely enough for aged care residents as it is, but during that time they couldn’t have visitors, couldn’t have their regular entertainment, religious services, outings etc. That was hard.”

Sophie, whose daughter lives in New Zealand and son lives in Sydney where he is a full-time carer for his wife, says she loves Kathleen’s visits.

“I don’t have many other visitors, so I do appreciate Kathleen’s visits”, she says.

“I think we’ve become good friends. We’ve actually got a lot in common. I was the one chosen for her to visit and I think that was my very good luck. I appreciate her very, very much.”

Rosemary Edgar, who manages CatholicCare’s Community Visitors Scheme, says the program has been going for more than 30 years and there is always a need for new volunteers.

“The COVID period has been tough on the program because people couldn’t visit and then some of our older volunteers dropped out because of their own health vulnerability, so we’ve lost some volunteers who have been with us for a long time,” she says.

“It’s a very flexible program for volunteers – the commitment is usually once a fortnight, any day that suits, between 10am and 5pm. It suits a lot of people because they’re not tied to one time. Our volunteers, like Kathleen, are amazing.

“It aims to build connections in the community for people who are socially isolated, blind or vision impaired or who don’t get many visitors.

“It’s a very simple program really. It’s a friendship program and that is really nice.”

Can you spare an hour a fortnight to help?

Please contact Rosemary Edgar on  0418 435 304 or email rosemary.edgar@catholiccaredbb.org.au.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy

 

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