Worried she would not have anything in common with Lorna, Alicia now cherishes a special bond that transcends age, cultural background, and lived experiences. She reflects on how their friendship has boosted her confidence and shown her the transformative impact of volunteering in the community.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am one of the medical students doing my placement in Ballarat. I have lived here for two years and grown to really love the area. Outside of study I have a wide range of hobbies, these include running, reading, cooking, and travelling.
What inspired you to choose volunteering with older seniors facing social isolation or loneliness?
I decided to volunteer for this program as a way of giving back to the local community in Ballarat. When I moved here, I was so impressed by the kindness and warmth of everyone, and I wanted to contribute in a small way to the community. I am also a very social person and enjoy meeting new people, so I can only imagine how difficult it is for older seniors who feel isolated. I wanted to do my small part in helping someone feel more connected to their community.
How did you hear about In Great Company?
I heard about IGC through another medical student in Ballarat. Joining the program has been one of the best things I’ve done. My client, Lorna, and I have fostered a special friendship and I’m always so happy to see her every week. It has been a fantastic experience.
Can you describe your senior client and what your visits look like?
Lorna is always so fun to be around. She is incredibly friendly, and kind and we always have lots to catch up on. I visit her weekly and we will usually go and visit a café and have lunch together. Sometimes we will visit the Ballarat Botanical Gardens to see the new flower installations.
Do you have a memorable moment or activity you’ve enjoyed with your client?
Lorna loves her garden, and a memorable moment together was when I took her to the Greenhouse in Ballarat which is a beautiful nursery café. We sat outside in the lovely sunshine and enjoyed our lunch together. Lorna loved it so much that she even bought a plant to take home. She tells me frequently that she will often take her family there when they visit her during the weekends, and it makes me genuinely happy that she enjoyed the visit so much and how often she goes back.
What makes the friendship meaningful or unique for you?
Hearing that Lorna tells her friends and family about me is very meaningful. It makes me feel like I have genuinely made an impact on her life. I have also met some of her family members which has been incredibly rewarding.
Have there been any significant challenges or obstacles as a volunteer?
The biggest challenge is grappling with the fact that my time volunteering with IGC will end. I am moving away from Ballarat unfortunately and will no longer be able to regularly visit Lorna. However, I know that I will be visiting Ballarat in the future, and I look forward to catching up with Lorna as friends.
Have you gained any insights about yourself or others through this experience?
I have gained much more confidence in connecting with someone who is much older than me. Initially, I was quite anxious that we might not have anything to talk about, especially given the difference in our age, cultures, and life experiences. I realised that it doesn’t matter, and I can meaningfully connect and interact with older individuals.
In the future, I would like to have other opportunities to give back to my community and take on additional volunteering opportunities, even with a busy schedule. It’s shown me the impact you can have and the difference it makes to a community.
In your opinion, why is it important to volunteer by visiting older people in need of friendship?
As people age, they start to lose social connections and family members will grow up and build their own lives. I think this experience can be incredibly isolating. Volunteering can help the older people of our community to still feel connected.
What are your thoughts on how cultural diversity impacts the experience of loneliness among older individuals, and how do you believe we can better address this issue within our volunteer program?
I think cultural diversity can make it more likely that an individual becomes socially isolated. I think greater diversity within the volunteer program can help with this and potentially pairing volunteers with clients of similar cultural backgrounds. Language can also cause someone to become socially isolated and pairing people together who speak the same language may also be helpful.
Do you have any words of encouragement or advice to those interested in joining this program?
Do it! You won’t regret it.