Meet the volunteer: Nick Isles

Feb 17, 2023

Nick saw an ad calling for volunteers. He clicked on it, and the rest is history. With such an interesting life story behind him, he loves spending time with Shirley as they talk about their lives and interests. Read more about what inspires Nick, and
his wise words for other volunteers.

Tell us a little bit about yourself

My name is Nick Iles and I moved to Brisbane in 2020 with my wife and three teenage daughters. We are originally from Sydney but spent 7 years living and working in Kansas City USA when I was transferred there for work back in 2013.

We really love Brisbane, the sun and warmth and our big old Queenslander! It is a far cry from some of the cold winters and snow we endured in Kanas. Speaking of Kansas, they are in the Superbowl this year! Woot Woot!

Small minor point, I hail from New Zealand, but don’t tell anyone I am a Kiwi!

How did you get involved with In Great Company?

After a recent change in my working situation, I was looking for a new job and a classified ad came up in my search that said “now that you have a little time on your hands – why not volunteer?

I clicked on the link and the rest is history.

What attracted you to the cause or why do you volunteer with seniors facing loneliness and isolation?

Probably like many of the volunteers with Feros you see this in your own family or of someone close. My mum is widowed and now lives on her own in New Zealand with all her kids now living in Australia. I know she is lonely from time to time and would probably enjoy having someone pop over for a cup of tea and chat. Maybe they could take the leaves out of her gutter on the back porch too because she keeps telling me about that.

Did anything or anyone in your life play a role in providing inspiration for your involvement with lonely seniors?

During my last semester at University, I needed to remove all distractions so I could focus on my studies, and I decided to board with an older lady near my school. Mrs Parsonson was in her mid 80’s and she had two boarders. She opened my eyes to what the twilight years could mean for older people.

She had chickens and donkeys and drove (very fast) to town in a little red car with a big sign on the steering wheel that said, “Keep Left”! Mrs Parsonson was busy to say the least. She played bridge on Mondays, did riding for the disabled on Tuesdays and on Thursdays she did a life drawing class. She even managed to convince me to pose nude for her class! God I can’t believe I did that! She was a real doer. I can still hear her saying – “well I ain’t dead so I might as well give it a go”.

Who do you visit and what do your visits involve?

I am matched with Shirley Strong – Strong by name and Strong by nature! (smile) Shirley grew up around where I live in north Brisbane, and we sometimes drive the streets in her old neighbourhood.

We try and go out every second Wednesday for a few hours. I really want to get her out of her house and off to somewhere she hasn’t been in a while, and I also try and make it a little surprise if I can. I call her on the weeks we don’t meet just to check in on how she is going and then give her a few clues as to what we might do the following week.

This year we made a list of all the things that she wants to do an I put in a few that I want to do.

Can you tell us what makes this friendship special for you?

For me personally, I appreciate seeing the joy that Shirley gets when we go out. She is so humble and grateful, I think if I took her to the corner store, she would think I was Rock Hudson (who is her favourite actor). I love listening to her stories about her dancing at clubs with her late husband, raising her three kids, and her involvement in the local footy team. I also love it that she trusts me to look after her and see that she is OK.

Do you have a story shared with your senior client that really moves you?

Well, we have only just started dating (just kidding) so its early days. I did take Shirley to my local swimming pool the other day with the intent on getting her feet wet and maybe get her in for a swim! I don’t think Shirley has been for a swim for a very long time and my wish is to get her in so she can enjoy the wonderful therapy it can offer. I know she will love it and I have promised her I will be there every step of the way. Let’s just say ‘watch this space’! And Shirley – if you are reading this “how is that swimsuit shopping going?”

Have you learnt anything about yourself or others through this experience?

Meeting someone like Shirley and taking the time out of my normally busy schedule, even for just a few hours a fortnight has helped me to think about what I can do for my own family, my mother and parents in law. It’s made me assess what is truly important in life, but probably the most important thing is being present. Not just in a physical sense but in a mental capacity. We have many distractions in our lives but the basic desire for human contact and interaction still trumps those. Meeting Shirley has been a good reminder of that.

What do you think it’s important to volunteer by visiting older people in need of friendship?

That’s going to be me one day, so I want to ‘pay it forward’. I love my chats with Shirley and hearing about her family and I love our adventures. It has also made me more aware of older people in the community that might need a friend or a helping hand. It takes no talent to ask a person if they need a hand and doing it with dignity – and you will be surprised by the smile you get.

Do you have a message to share with others looking to become a friendly visitor volunteer?

Do it. You are not that busy. Shuffle things around and do something that is real. It will mean a lot to that person – way more than you think, but also to others in their lives. Maybe you might catch yourself having fun, like posing in a life drawing class or having a swim, either way I think it helps put our lives into perspective.