From radio waves to real connections

Oct 30, 2023

Sometimes, the most beautiful stories begin with a simple radio broadcast. In Tony’s case, his life took a heart-warming turn when he heard about In Great Company’s volunteer program on his local ABC Radio breakfast show. His connection with Jasmine, a volunteer who visits him every fortnight, has blossomed into a story of new adventures and companionship.

How it all began

It all started with a radio broadcast. Tony, facing isolation and the frustrations of impaired vision, heard Sue O’Toole talking about In Great Company’s volunteer program on his local breakfast radio show. Intrigued and in search of companionship, he reached out, and spoke to Sue who offered to register him over the phone without missing a beat.

Enter Jasmine, a volunteer looking for connection to the community

A dedicated volunteer with a passion for making a difference, Jasmine describes her beginning with the program: “I was reflecting on my values and realised I was missing a bit of a sense of community, and I felt volunteering would be a good place to reconnect. I did some googling and stumbled upon In Great Company, and realised it was exactly the kind of volunteering I’d like to get involved in. I just loved its ethos. I have always really enjoyed spending time with and learning from people older than me and have always had a real soft spot for the elderly in our community. I have seen my own grandparents battle loneliness and I knew I could make a difference with someone in my local community.”

Jasmine and Tony’s initial meeting was tinged with uncertainty, primarily due to their age difference. Both felt a bit apprehensive, unsure of what to expect and whether they would find common ground. But at the same time, equally excited about the potential of forming a new friendship.

What do visits look like?

Jasmine visits every fortnight on a Monday, and this normally includes an outing into the community. Tony really enjoys getting out, since having impaired vision means that there are so many things he cannot do on his own, and he has been frustrated at the impact it has had to his independence.

The duo has embarked on a journey of exploration, discovering new cafes, art festivals, and scenic spots.

Tony recounts: “I truly enjoyed going to the SWELL Sculpture Festival and Currumbin. Jasmin had a Pedometer and we walked over 2,500 steps! Our visit to Currumbin RSL Club for coffee last week, was beautiful: I like it there on the river. We have also been to Freeman’s Organic farm, it’s been in the family for about 100 years, has magnificent views across the Currumbin Valley. You go through a rainforest to get there. I can’t see the view like a fully sighted person, but it was nice to go up there. We have also visited the Echo Village and Dust Temple which was beautiful.”

Jasmine says: “Contrary to my initial concerns, much to our delight, our age difference has not been an issue. Tony and I have tried to explore a number of new cafes in the area, including going for a drive to Currumbin valley and Tallebudgera valley. One of the most memorable activities was a suggestion by Tony to check out the SWELL Sculpture Festival at Currumbin on the beach. It was lovely to walk along the beach and I read out the descriptions to Tony and we discussed our different perspectives on the art.”

Any challenges?

Jasmine works from home a couple of days a week, so she is able to visit for only about an hour and half each time. She admits: “I find it challenging needing to balance a full-time job, with wanting to spend more time volunteering and feeling bad having to say goodbye on my visits. Tony also struggles with poor eyesight and physical mobility so this has often challenged me thinking about new activities and ways we can interact.”

Tony appreciates that Jasmine doesn’t have much time he understands that she also commutes to Brisbane a couple of days a week as well. “We were meeting once a week, but we have brought it back to once a fortnight. She is a different person altogether from my other volunteer Margaret who visits on alternate weeks.”

In Great Company has paired Tony with another volunteer to provide additional support and variety.

How this experience changes you

For Tony, Jasmine’s companionship has been a lifeline. Their outings, whether to sculpture festivals, RSL clubs, organic farms, or the local coffee shop, provided a welcome escape from isolation. In Jasmine, Tony found someone who understands the frustrations of visual impairment and mobility challenges. Their connection has brightened his days, providing a break from the monotony of solitude.

“I don’t know what I would do without it really. I find Jasmine is a very caring person. We get on quite well, she is a totally different generation, but I do enjoy her company a great deal. We have developed trust and a mutual understanding of each other. We have become more comfortable in each other’s company, and we gradually find that we do have more in common. My other volunteer, Margaret is older, so we have different conversations sharing our similar lived experiences, cultural or social references, and views.”

For Jasmine: I have learnt that sometimes just taking the time out to hear someone’s story, share in their problems, or just have a casual conversation can make a difference. It has enriched my life by showing me how precious every moment of life is, as well as how powerful human connection and a sense of community can be.”

In conclusion

Jasmine has further strengthened her perspective on the importance of social connection and how crucial it is to keep these channels open with people of all ages in life. Building and maintaining friendships and companionships and staying involved with community is so vital for our physical and mental health.

Her advice to new volunteers: “Come in with an open mind and open heart. Take each session as it comes and manage your expectations. You will be guaranteed to learn and teach at the same time. You will definitely make a difference!”

In Great Company continues to create these stories, reminding us all that no matter where you start, the path to connection is within reach.

As Tony puts it: “I am so glad I heard about this program. I certainly look forward to my visitors so I would definitely recommend it to others. I haven’t tried to sell it to anyone yet, maybe I’m selfish and don’t want to share (he laughs). I will make a particular point of it now.”

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