Aug 09, 2023

High school students learn the value of volunteering in aged care

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Year 11 student Alana Leahy with 103-year-old resident Lorna Howard playing Dominoes. [Source: Supplied]

Volunteering in Australia has been on the decline, particularly among young people, for a while – particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic. 

That’s why this National Student Volunteering Week has adopted the theme “Give. Grow. Belong.” to celebrate student volunteers and promote volunteering to young people across the country. The theme highlights a generation of young people who are more socially conscious than ever before and are committed to creating positive change. 

Year 11 student Alana Leahy is one of those young people. She began volunteering at HammondCare Wahroonga to clock up her hours for the gold Duke of Edinburgh International Award and spend more time with her grandparents – her grandmother being a resident and her grandfather a volunteer.

Alana spends time providing companionship for residents like 103-year-old Lorna Howard, including board games like Dominos and Jenga or discussing key moments of Lorna’s long life.

She also spent time with a resident, an Italian immigrant, who was an award-winning documentarian and filmmaker. Alana’s ability to speak Italian, including recently spending six weeks in Italy, was helpful in adding to the man’s quality of life in his final days. Sadly, the gentleman recently passed away.

“Perhaps the most powerful lesson is realising the impact of a simple conversation. The residents have shown me how a heartfelt chat can truly brighten someone’s day and leave an indelible mark.”

Alana found the experience so fulfilling she decided to stay on as a regular volunteer.

Like Alana, 17-year-old Shanya Irushi Abeyasinghe’s volunteer journey at VMCH’s John R Hannah aged care facility began as part of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award in 2019 but the mental and emotional benefits were quick to surface and has since “filled a gap” in her life.

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17-year-old student Shanya Irushi Abeyasinghe with resident Mary. [Source: Supplied]

During her visits, Shanya has found one-on-one conversations with residents about their life, past experiences and words of wisdom to be a fulfilling experience. 

Shanya is hopeful more young people will take the leap into volunteering.

“For so long I’ve looked at life just like school was; getting from one stage to the next stage, to university, to where I want to be in ten years or whatever. Through this experience, I’ve learnt to slow down and make connections along the way and not be so focused on my life.”

Intergenerational volunteering has been in focus over the last few years, partly thanks to ABC’s television series Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds. Following the show’s success, a spinoff called Old People’s Home for Teenagers was released, highlighting what older adults and teenagers have in common; loneliness.

Head of Volunteer Services at Hammondcare, Belinda Holst, said volunteering was a win-win for everyone.

“The residents appreciate the endless energy and enthusiasm of young people,” she said.

“At the same time, students can learn valuable life lessons and skills as well as generating hours for awards such as the Duke of Edinburgh. In some cases, it could also lead to consideration of a pathway into a rewarding career in aged care.”

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