Apr 30, 2024

Two generous hearts and one wagging tail bring joy to care residents

Dog volunteer You are Ace (1)

When volunteer numbers in aged care were cut in half because of the COVID-19 pandemic, countless residents lost valuable support and connection. Many of our most generous community members were also forced to give up their much-loved commitments.

Now, those numbers are on the rise and Wagga Wagga aged care volunteer Anne O’Connor is bringing warmth and joy to her local aged care home in the form of her four-legged friend, Maltese Shih Tzu Ellie May.

Anne and Ellie May visit Wagga Wagga’s The Forrest Centre, an 80-bed not-for-profit home, each week. It’s nothing but joy as Ellie May’s wagging tail and adorable eyes light up the faces of residents, staff and visitors. 

Nothing soothes the soul better than unconditional love from a pet.

But Ellie May isn’t the only hero. Anne is a pastoral care volunteer so she’s there to connect with the residents, talk about their lives or provide support where needed. The duo are a match made in heaven.

“[Ellie May’s] the best icebreaker. She’s really good for that, then they love to chat. They’re lovely people and it’s a nice way to fill a little bit of time,” Anne said.

Kind-hearted Anne started volunteering at The Forrest Centre by taking communion to Catholic residents. Now she dedicates two days per week to volunteering; one day she visits with Ellie May and the other she helps operate the music for hymns for the Anglican church service.

For Anne, volunteering is just an extension of her love of connection with others and catching up with old friends. 

“I’ve lived 67 years in Wagga. There are quite a few people that I’ve known who grew up in the area and it’s nice to go and have a chat with them. You only need to spend 10 minutes with four to five people. For them it’s like fresh air and brightens up their day,” she said.

“I worked for the government for 40 years and then looked after my parents who were quite ill in their last few years. After they passed, I thought what am I going to do now? I enjoy talking to the oldies. They just love having someone to talk to… and, most of all, they want to see the dog.”

The Forrest Centre CEO Evan Robertson expressed his gratitude for Anne – and Ellie May. He said both have made a huge difference in residents’ lives. 

“Her smile and her companionship are a real highlight of our pastoral program. Not to mention the two-in-one combo you get with Ellie May. I wish we had many more like Anne and Ellie. The value and service to our community from Anne’s contribution cannot be measured,” he said.

Anne’s work in Wagga Wagga, a town of just under 70,000 people, has even garnered national attention from the Aged and Community Care Providers Association (ACCPA), aged care’s peak body for service providers.

She’s been nominated in ACCPA’s You are ACE! Recognition awards that recognise excellence across all aged care settings. This acknowledgement is a just reward for a committed cohort of volunteers who want to give back to their community. 

ACCPA CEO Tom Symondson said the work of volunteers in aged care was highly valued and much appreciated.

“With a diminishing pool of people willing or able to volunteer, keeping and recruiting volunteers like Anne is increasingly important to the aged care sector,” he said.

“We applaud her volunteer work in aged care, her commitment, kindness and for making such an obvious difference to the lives of the older people in Wagga.”

You Are ACE! award finalists will be celebrated by ACCPA on August 7, Aged Care Employee Day.

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