Colourful companions make for a colourful canvas

Colourful companions make for a colourful canvas

In the heartwarming world of In Great Company, the simple yet profound act of reaching out has been transforming lives, two people at a time.

Born from the desire to bring people together, this volunteer program is all about making genuine connections. It’s not just about lending a hand.  It’s about creating moments, sharing stories, and kindling friendships. For those who’ve lived rich, full lives and now find themselves seeking a bit of companionship, Feros Care’s ‘In Great Company’ program steps in with open arms and open hearts.  

In 2023, among the many beautiful stories that blossomed, Mirella’s journey with Renay stands out as boldly as their personalities. Mirella, is a lively septuagenarian who carries the essence of a life lived with colour. Her story, growing up in the rich soils of a large Italian family in Egypt, flowered through the urban culture of Melbourne, and now thrives amidst the Gold Coast’s vibrant energy. But it wasn’t just the change of scenery that brought a new light into Mirella’s life. It was the friendship she found in Renay, a Feros Care volunteer for In Great Company with a spirit as adventurous as her own. 

Their first meeting was less a formal introduction and more a reunion of souls. Despite the years that lay between them, Mirella and Renay quickly discovered a shared language in their enthusiasm for life. Over regular dinners and coffee meets, they now exchange stories like old friends.  

Mirella, who initially wondered if Renay’s youthful spirit would resonate with her own seasoned one, has found loads of fun in their conversations.  

“At first, when they mentioned Renay, I wondered if she might be too young for me. But, you know, she’s got this old soul about her. We can chat for hours, over dinner or a cuppa, and it’s just wonderful. I’m so blessed to have her in my life,” says Mirella. 


Renay’s vibrant energy and fresh perspective breathed new life into Mirella’s world, rekindling her love for painting, a passion that had dimmed over the past decade. Inspired by their bond, Mirella recently painted a piece that beautifully captures the essence of their colourful companionshipIt’s called “Celebrating our Friendship. 

older woman in spotty dress with a painting of flowers.

For Renay, volunteering with Mirella is more than just a commitment.  It’s a source of happiness and fulfillment. Renay’s life, a canvas of adventure and community spirit, finds a reflection in Mirella’s spirited past. 

“It’s such a pleasure I sometimes feel guilty.  I get just as much out of it as Mirella does.”

This is just one of the countless heartwarming connections made possible through In Great Company. The heart of the program is its reciprocal nature, revealing the beauty and power of social connections. No matter our age or background, we all have something valuable to share and receive. 

If you would like to make a connection of your own, click here for more information 

 

Our Friendship, Culture and Nostalgic Connections

Our Friendship, Culture and Nostalgic Connections

When Patricia and Alexandra were matched through the program, they quickly discovered shared experiences in their journeys to Australia, as well as similarities in their immigrant stories, sense of identity and cultural heritage. This bond allowed them to comfortably share memories and stories about their life back in Greece, celebrating their cultural roots.

Patricia and Alexandra’s friendship illustrates the significance of cultural considerations in volunteer programs like this. Despite spending considerable time in Australia, seniors from diverse backgrounds often encounter isolation and a feeling of disconnect due to language and cultural barriers. In Great Company is devoted to finding the right connections to form a natural friendship that can provide a genuine sense of belonging.

Meet Patricia & Alexandra

Patricia, a retiree residing in Dural, NSW, came to Australia at the young age of 18 from the Peloponnese region of Greece. She loves beautiful gardens, sewing garments for her grandchildren and herself, and watching a thriller on the telly with her afternoon tea.

Her volunteering story began with a desire to reconnect with the elderly, when a friend referred her to In Great Company.

Alexandra was referred to In Great Company by her daughter, who recognised the importance of having a Greek-speaking volunteer for her mother. With Alexandra’s limited English, she had difficulties connecting with people beyond her immediate family and friends. Her daughter saw the need for a cultural and language-specific connection to enhance Alexandra’s social engagement.

We discovered a perfect match for Alexandra in Patricia, even though they lived over an hour apart. Fortunately, they were open to initiating conversations over the phone, and to everyone’s delight, they formed an immediate bond. As their friendship grew, Patricia decided to visit Alexandra in person.

Their first meeting marked by laughter and shared experiences, confirmed a genuine connection. Now, they try to meet at least once a month and maintain regular phone calls between visits.

What makes your connection so special for you?

Patricia

“I came to Australia when I was 18, and it was too far to travel to Greece to spend time with my old relatives. Since my husband passed away, my daughters live nearby but I live on my own. Alexandra is originally from Cyprus and born in Egypt, but I feel like she is a kindred soul, we have a lot of common experiences since we both came here at a very young age.

Visiting Alexandra brings back memories of my old family, I feel like I am visiting an auntie. We enjoy talking about the old days, reminiscing about Greece, and sharing our love for the culture and society back then. It’s a nice change from my routine, it gets me out of my comfort zone and pushes me to explore a different part of Sydney.”

Alexandra

“We connected instantly over the phone, sharing laughter and jokes right away. We are both friendly with similar personalities, open with our emotions. Although Patricia has a family, like me, they are busy with their own lives. We enjoy talking to each other, and going out together, exploring the local area, often visiting my favourite cafés.”

What do your visits look like?

Patricia

“Our in-person visits are always exciting. I cook the day before and keep it in the freezer and I also take some biscuits for tea. Sometimes we take a little walk or spend time in the garden. We sit on her porch at the back and have a chat about our families. She tells me about her life, and we look at pictures.”

Alexandra

“A few months ago, my daughter drove me to visit Patricia and her daughters, her grandkids, and their friendly little neighbour who came over to say hello. We sat outside, enjoying coffee, cake, nibbles, and salad. It was a delightful time, and I really enjoyed myself.”

What have you learned through this experience?

Patricia

“I can observe what aging gracefully looks and feels like when you’re on your own. Spending time with Alexandra has given me insight into the experience of being an older person. This has led me to greater acceptance of what lies ahead, and through these interactions, I can better prepare myself for the future.

Alexandra

“I am delighted whenever Patricia visits or calls. When we meet, it’s like greeting an old friend—we share hugs and kisses. Our time together is filled with joy, laughter, and pleasant conversations. We understand each other well, as we both grew up in the old days, when life was different.”

How does cultural diversity impact the experience of loneliness among older individuals?

Patricia

“Australia has been our home for a long time, where we’ve spent most of our adult lives and raised our children. While we’ve created a life here, there’s always a longing for family and relatives in our native countries. This is what I can share with Alexandra, she is someone who understands me and that is special. We can confide in each other and feel heard, we can feel understood.

I didn’t anticipate that this volunteering experience would help me discover a new sense of culture and identity, along with finding an invaluable friend outside of my family. I would highly recommend it to anyone thinking about it. One day, we will also be in our older years, and it would be comforting to have someone visit us. Giving back is a two-way street — as you offer support, you also receive it in return.”

Ready to get started with becoming or finding a volunteer?

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10 Thoughtful Christmas Gift Ideas for Your Senior Friend

10 Thoughtful Christmas Gift Ideas for Your Senior Friend

The holiday season is a wonderful time to show appreciation and love to the special people in our lives, especially our senior friends who have enriched our journeys with their wisdom and companionship.

As you contemplate the perfect gift, consider factors such as space constraints, check for existing items to avoid duplication, be mindful of home restrictions (e.g., on wall decorations), choose something aligned with your senior friend’s interests, account for mobility issues, and factor in the potential risk of valuables going missing.

If you’re in search of the perfect Christmas gift, here are some heart-warming ideas to make their holiday season extra special:

Indoor Plants or Potted Flowers

Bring a touch of nature indoors by gifting a low-maintenance indoor plant or a beautiful arrangement of potted flowers. Not only do plants add aesthetic appeal to their living space, but they also have proven benefits for mental well-being.

Homemade Treats and Goodies

Prepare a basket of homemade treats, such as cookies, jams, or pickles. Handmade goodies add a personal touch and show that you put thought and effort into creating something special for them.

Soothing Hand Cream or Body Lotion

Gift your senior friend a moisturising hand cream or body lotion. Enriched with nourishing ingredients like shea butter and vitamin E, it provides deep hydration, and a delightful fragrance adds a touch of pampering to their daily routine.

Memory games

Perfect for a senior friend with dementia, memory games help to promote a sense of focus, stimulating brain activity while reducing the effects of anxiety. Some popular games include puzzles, crosswords, card games and colouring-in.

Warm Slippers or Non-Slip Socks

Keep their feet warm and cosy with a pair of comfortable slippers or non-slip socks. Look for options with memory foam or anti-slip features to ensure safety and comfort.

A Box of Chocolates

Bring a smile to your senior friend’s face with a box of assorted chocolates to offer them a moment of indulgence. A thoughtful and sweet gesture to brighten their holiday season.

Handwritten Letter or Poem

Compose a heartfelt letter or poem expressing your appreciation and love. Handwritten words carry a unique charm, and your senior friend will treasure the sincerity and thoughtfulness behind your personalised message.

Comfortable Blanket or Shawl

For those colder days, a cosy blanket or shawl makes for a practical and comforting gift. Choose one in their favourite colour or a pattern that suits their style, ensuring they stay warm and snug during the festive season.

Aromatherapy Diffuser with Essential Oils

Create a relaxing and pleasant atmosphere in their home by gifting an aromatherapy diffuser along with a set of soothing essential oils. Scents like vanilla, lavender or eucalyptus can contribute to a calm and serene environment.

A Personalised Gift

The key to a personalised gift is to infuse it with elements that reflect your friend’s personality, interests, and the shared history you both cherish. Some ideas could be a customized crossword puzzle, a personalised memory book filled with photos and anecdotes from your shared experiences, a hand-knit blanket or shawl or a hand-painted plant pot with indoor plant.

The most meaningful thing about gifting lies in the thoughtful consideration behind each present, or we often say “it’s the thought that counts”. Taking the time to choose something that reflects their interests and needs already begins to make this Christmas a truly memorable and heart-warming experience for both them and you.

Find out more about In Great Company

Meet the staff: Gemma Merrick

Meet the staff: Gemma Merrick

Meet Gemma Merrick, a Volunteer Coordinator for In Great Company. With a background in Aged Care and a passion for addressing loneliness in older individuals, Gemma finds satisfaction in the challenges of her role, and takes joy in facilitating heart-warming connections between volunteers and seniors.

What is your current role?

I am a Volunteer Coordinator for In Great Company recruiting volunteers to match them with isolated or lonely seniors for the purpose of companionship and friendship.

How long have you been in this role?

I’ve been in the role for around three months.

Tell us a little bit about yourself

I was born and raised in the north of England, surrounded by my parents, one sister, and four brothers who all still reside in the UK. I began my career working in Aged Care for eight years before transitioning to the banking sector undertaking various roles over the following 10 years. After spending some years in Sales, I felt a yearning to return to a role focused on service. I loved my time working within Aged Care, so it made sense to go back to this area of work.

My husband, Lee, and I have been happily married since 2003. We have a son Daniel who is 23. When we were still living in the UK, we often thought about what it would it be like to immigrate particularly to Australia. By chance, we stumbled on an Emigration Expo advertised in the local newspaper that was being held near us. We decided to attend and ultimately made one of the best decisions of our lives to immigrate to Australia.

Engaging with helpful individuals at the expo, we realized that our dream was attainable. Leveraging Lee’s skills as an Electrician, a highly sought-after profession at the time, we enlisted the assistance of a visa agent to navigate the immigration process. Within eighteen months, we had sold our home and relocated to Brisbane.

Living in Australia has brought us immeasurable joy and happiness, the lifestyle, climate, and breath-taking beaches, and the pleasure of meeting wonderful people along the way.

What are your hobbies and interests?

I love building up a sweat at the gym, my favourite classes are Body Combat and Body Pump classes. I love spending time with my family, whether it’s a simple drive or a nice lunch, and taking my dog to the park or the beach. As a bit of a homebody, there’s nothing better than relaxing at home with a good book or cooking a roast dinner. Eventually I would like to hire a camper trailer to explore more of Australia.

What attracted you to In Great Company, delivered by Feros Care?

I was working as a Multi Program Assessor for Aspire4Life, and an opportunity came up for the role of Volunteer Coordinator at In Great Company. Reading about them really clicked with me. The role was so different to anything in my previous experience, and I absolutely loved the idea about tackling loneliness in older people. I have spoken with many seniors who just want some company, and now in this role, I can help do something about it.

What is the most satisfying part of your role?

I really enjoy the challenges of my role—it keeps things interesting. Being flexible and thinking creatively is key. Helping people connect over the causes they care about is incredibly satisfying. Hearing the heart-warming stories of client-volunteer friendships developing is the best part. It also helps that we have a really great team.

How valuable do you believe the In Great Company Volunteer service is?

I think the In Great Company service is so valuable in lots of ways. The program aims to tackle loneliness which will have such a positive impact on the senior community. It empowers volunteers to give back and be able to do something that they care about. In Great Company is not just running a program it is contributing to a cause.

Find out more about In Great Company

Meet the volunteer: Alicia Chan

Meet the volunteer: Alicia Chan

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.

If you’d like to become a volunteer like Alicia and make a senior’s life less lonely, you can start the process here.

Meet the volunteer: Sahar Noor

Meet the volunteer: Sahar Noor

Sahar, a healthcare student and passionate tennis player, joined In Great Company to combat the loneliness experienced by older people and found a genuine connection with Pam. Through her volunteer efforts, she has formed a friendship that transcends language and culture. Sahar highlights the importance of cultural sensitivity in volunteer programs, advocating for the profound impact it can have on enriching the lives of older individuals.

Tell us a little bit about yourself

I’m Sahar Noor, a college student majoring in Healthcare. I love playing tennis with friends. It’s a fantastic way for me to connect with people outside of school and have fun. In my leisure time, I also like to read books especially thriller and history books. I am part of a large family, so family is important to feel supported and connected.

What inspired you to choose volunteering with older seniors facing social isolation or loneliness?

I am motivated from personal experiences close to home. Having observed the effects of loneliness on my elderly family members and neighbours while growing up, I felt a strong desire to make a positive impact in this area. I also enjoy connecting with older individuals and hearing their life stories.

How did you hear about In Great Company?

I came across IGC through some online research and community outreach programs where I work. Joining the program was a smooth process from the beginning, and I’ve had a positive experience filled with great support and access to helpful resources.

Can you describe your senior client and what your visits look like?

I visit Pam, a delightful older person who enjoys my company as much as I enjoy hers. During our visits, we sometimes play board games, share stories, or simply enjoying a cup of tea together in her beautiful backyard garden.

Can you share a memorable moment or activity you’ve enjoyed with your client?

It was when we spent an afternoon reminiscing about Pam’s youth, looking at old photo albums, and sharing laughter over nostalgic stories. It was a heart-warming experience for me to hear and connect through her stories across generations, getting a glimpse of what life was like back in those days, and sharing in those memories and experiences together.

What makes the friendship meaningful or unique for you?

The friendship I’ve formed with Pam is meaningful because it goes beyond the surface. We have built a genuine connection based on trust, understanding, and mutual respect. I feel like we both contribute to each other’s lives; we are real friends who support each other.

Have there been any significant challenges or obstacles as a volunteer?

While the overall experience has been positive, there have been challenges, such as language barriers or concerns for her health. Overcoming these challenges has only strengthened the bond between us.

Have you gained any insights about yourself or others through this experience?

Through my volunteer experience, I’ve gained valuable insights into the resilience of the human spirit, the importance of empathy, and the profound impact of small gestures of kindness. It has been a journey of personal growth, teaching me patience, compassion, and the significance of human connection.

In your opinion, why is it important to volunteer by visiting older people in need of friendship?

Visiting older people in need of friendship is crucial because it addresses the often-overlooked issue of social isolation among seniors. The companionship offered through these volunteer efforts not only improves the mental and emotional well-being of the elderly but also contributes to building more connected and caring communities.

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?

Cultural diversity can significantly impact the experience of loneliness among older individuals. It’s essential for volunteer programs to recognise and respect cultural differences, adapting activities, and approaches to be inclusive and culturally sensitive. This ensures that volunteers can effectively connect with seniors from diverse backgrounds, fostering a sense of belonging and understanding.

Do you have any words of encouragement or advice to those interested in joining this program?

Many of us will think “what can we do? I’m just one person”, but everyone says that! For those interested in joining this program, I would encourage you to take the leap. The impact you can have on the lives of older individuals is massive, and the personal growth and fulfilment you’ll experience are equally important. Approach each interaction with an open heart, a willingness to learn, and a genuine desire to make a positive difference in someone else’s life.

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