Culture and friendship with Fran and Mary

Dec 20, 2022

Fran Deakin never thought she would be learning how to make Vietnamese spring rolls as part of her In Great Company companionship program. But her volunteer, Mary, has brought her right out of her shell, teaching her new skills and encouraging
her to try new things. 

Fran used to be a primary school teacher and has 3 children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren too. She loves knitting and gardening, has a friendly dog and goes to church every week.  

Mary joined the program as a friendly visitor in October and quite quickly forged a lovely friendship with Fran. Every fortnight, she travels from Eastern Metro Melbourne for about 30 minutes to visit Fran in Bacchus Marsh. 

Mary came to Australia from Vietnam in 2006 while still in high school. She has 3 children in primary school and has been working in the import-export business for the last 5 years. Before this, Mary helped manage her husband’s Vietnamese restaurant, in addition to working in property management and real estate.  

Why did you get involved with In Great Company? 

Fran: I am alone a lot of the time and really needed to socialize. I felt like I needed to have people around more often and especially someone to be able to talk to. I live in a block of units and often go through the week without seeing anyone.  

Mary: COVID made me realise how short life is. I have always wanted to do something for the community, and decided it was time to give back. During college I studied Health Sciences, and I volunteered at a nursing home, which is why I decided to volunteer with older people again. Everyone gets old eventually and I wanted more lived experience and opportunities to learn from an older companion. So, I turned to Google, found In Great Company and signed up to their program.

Tell us a bit about your visits. What activities do you do together?  

The pair meet up once a fortnight. Their visits always involve a chat and a cuppa, and when the weather is good, they take a walk outside with Fran’s dog, to the end of the block and back. It’s not terribly far but it’s good for Fran to be outside and even better with some friendly company. Sometimes they go shopping at Aldi to pick up a few groceries. They both enjoy gardening too, so after the lawn mowing service has left, they go into the garden and do some work there.  

Fran loves sharing a meal with someone, so one time, Mary cooked and brought over a Vietnamese noodle soup. It was so filling that Fran didn’t need any tea afterwards. Fran says that she watched Mary twirling her noodles around chopsticks and was amazed how quickly she finished eating. Unfortunately, she could not keep up and Mary had to watch her eat her noodles which took much longer.  

A couple of weeks ago, Mary told Fran that she would teach her how to make spring rolls, and she did just that. They had a great time cooking together, and Fran was so proud of what they made. The spring rolls were just beautiful and so delicious too. 

How has your life changed since meeting each other? What are you most proud of?  

Fran: We often discuss things from her culture. Her grandmother is still in Vietnam, and she tells me about her. She is studying at the moment, so I like to hear where she is up to. She has so much to offer. We talk about my experiences, to help her
know more about Australia.

Mary: Fran reminds me of my grandparents. I think she is like my grandmother. The mission of serving people, and being someone for them to talk to, seems very simple, but this gives them a lot of energy and purpose. Parents and grandparents are the head of a family so it’s really important to help them stay connected and be a relevant part of the community.

What advice would you give to someone who is interested in the In Great Company Companionship Program?

Fran: Just have a go, you don’t know anything until you have met someone, had a chat with them for a while and see whether you can relax and be comfortable in each other’s company.

Mary: Be who you are, treat people like they are your grandparents and put yourself in other people’s shoes. You can make a big difference through even small actions.

If you’d like to become a volunteer with In Great Company and make a senior’s life less lonely, you can do so here.