While Kathleen might not remember every single thing her and her volunteer visitor Aleteia have done together, they are still forming some incredible memories together. Ale opens about her experiences visiting a senior with memory loss.
When did you get involved with IGC? What motivated you to get involved?
I am studying a certificate of Leisure and Health in Aged Care which requires practicum experience. My instructor had recommended volunteering in the Community Visitor Scheme as one option to meet these requirements. So, I looked it up and found a job posting to volunteer with a senior in my community here in Brisbane at In Great Company.
What attracted you to In Great Company in particular?
I have volunteered many times before, in op shops and with the Red Cross, so I am quite familiar with different volunteering opportunities in Australia. I have felt very comfortable and supported with In Great Company. They also have a very detailed on-boarding and orientation procedure.
What motivates you to stay involved?
I grew up in Brazil with my mother who was a teacher and then principal of a public school. She was always active helping children cope in spite of the limited funding for public schools from the government. She also coordinated a lot of activities and I enjoyed helping her all the time at fund raisers, raffles, and other events. I worked on a lot of projects related to children. When my mother got older, she was diagnosed with leukaemia, and I had to take care of her. After I came to Australia, my mother-in-law was also in an aged care facility and needed support. This changed my focus and interest to want to study and work in aged care. It reminds me of the joy I experienced helping children.
Tell us a bit about your clients; how many are you visiting? What activities do you do together?
I have been visiting a client called Kathleen since February. We mostly take it as we go and tend not to plan too much for anything. On some days, for example, when she has been full of energy, we had a little pampering session and I gave her a facial, massage and pedicure. On other days we watch TV, have a chat and a cuppa. Kathleen can’t go out too often due to mobility difficulties, but she is game for the occasional outing. For instance, one day she was admiring my dress and asked me to take her dress shopping. We were planning to go on my following visit with one of her carers, but it rained that day. So instead we decided to go through her wardrobe and see what dresses she already had. Surprisingly, Kathleen discovered all the dresses she had forgotten about and we realised that she didn’t need a new dress after all.
Of what contribution or achievement are you most proud?
When I was initially paired with Kathleen, I was a little worried because she suffers from a form of memory loss and vision impairment. I wasn’t sure if I could support her well enough as a volunteer without any carer experience. I didn’t let it discourage me though, I was really curious to get to meet her and know her story. So I went ahead with it and when I met Kathleen for the first time and we had a beautiful time.
Now we share a lot of stories and experiences from our lives. Kathleen has also opened up to me about her daughter, whom she lost to illness and misses dearly. We realised that I am about the same age as her daughter, and I also lost my mother 3 years ago to cancer, so we decided to ‘adopt’ each other as mother and daughter. She often talks about her son too, so when I am there, we give him call him or I send him pictures of what we do together. I can see her light up, and it makes me feel good seeing her so happy.
Does anyone in your life play a role in supporting your involvement? In providing inspiration?
My husband is my biggest supporter, he loves that I am volunteering and enjoying this experience.
Do you have an anecdote about your volunteering journey so far that really moved you?
I mentioned that Kathleen suffers from memory loss, and she could not remember who I was on my first, second or even third visit. It was possibly by my fourth visit that I was finally becoming
more familiar to her, but I wasn’t absolutely sure. During the COVID lockdown in Brisbane when I couldn’t visit her, I gave her calls instead. I was pleasantly surprised and moved
when she remembered who I was on the phone. I realised that it wasn’t important whether she remembered me initially, so long as I was there spending time with her together, she was
forming memories of me.
Do you have any messages to share? Tips or tricks?
Open your mind to everyone. We often only see the differences or barriers like disability or age. But life is short, and it makes such a difference to give back to others. Volunteering
with seniors can be an amazing experience and one of the best ways to give as well as receive.