It’s National Volunteer Week: Q&A with volunteer Simon Spencer

Simon Spencer, volunteer at St Andrew’s War Memorial Hospital.

Volunteers are a critical aspect of society, with an estimated five million people volunteering through an organisation annually, while an additional 6.5 million provide informal volunteering support within their community. In this Q&A we speak with Simon Spencer who volunteers at St Andrew’s War Memorial Hospital. After being an outpatient at the hospital for a number of years, he wanted to get involved as a volunteer and contribute back.

IA: What inspired you to volunteer in aged care, and what do you hope to gain from this experience?

Simon: I was asked during Covid if I would assist at an Aged Care home and I was happy to do so just from a position of being able to help during those trying times.  I frankly didn’t know what to expect but right from day one they welcomed me into their lives and I was really surprised how much they appreciated me being there.

IA: What do you think are the most important qualities for someone who is volunteering in aged care, and how do you embody these qualities?

Simon: Working in aged care you need patience and persistence but you get so much in return.  I was lucky enough to learn the skill of “hurry up and wait” in the Army and later supported people in the Solomon Islands for a few years so I know a good set of ears is important.

IA: What are some of the biggest challenges you face when working with elderly individuals, and how do you handle them?

Simon: Initially, the biggest challenge I faced when working with elderly individuals was being patient and taking the time to actually listen to not just the words but the feeling and emotions behind them.  People have lived remarkable and compelling lives and you get uplifted and amazed at the challenges and experiences these people have faced and at times they can be the cheekiest!

IA: What are some of the most rewarding aspects of volunteering in aged care, and how have these experiences impacted your life?

Simon: Volunteering has certainly impacted me in ways I’d never considered.  I often come away humbled and surprisingly I feel I’m a happier person overall.  I can recall a gentleman not wanting to come out of his room for several days and just facing the wall whenever anyone came into his room so I would just sit for a while and have a quiet talk, then his son called me one night to say his Dad was looking forward to me coming in and having a chat – I hasten to add I don’t think it was just me but just being able to have a two-way conversation and a bit of a chuckle with this gentleman was just so rewarding.

IA: What do you think are some of the biggest issues facing elderly individuals today, and how can we as a society work to address these issues?

Simon: In aged care homes I saw a couple of huge issues that we all could help with.  The first one is simply visiting, just spending a few hours a week visiting people in these homes makes an enormous difference. They spend countless hours in a small room or in front of a TV so to be able to interact with others, play a game, have a laugh or for someone to just listen to their history makes such a difference in their lives.  The second issue is activity.  We need to get them more mobile and active.  Exercise is medicine for the mind and body.

IA: What advice would you give to someone who is considering volunteering in aged care, and what qualities do you think are most important for them to possess?

Simon: I would advise someone who is considering volunteering in aged care services to be prepared to listen to the most amazing people in our community.  As aged care volunteers we need to be patient, have good listening skills and understand that the aged are the same as you and me but with just more wrinkles.

IA: How do you balance your volunteer work in aged care with your other responsibilities, such as work or family obligations?

Simon: Fortunately, I’m retired so I’m able to commit to volunteering a couple of days a week but really just a few of hours a month can have a huge impact on the elderly even to simply show they’re not forgotten and that someone cares.

IA: Thank you

Inside Ageing is hoping to share more stories like this. If you or someone you know has a volunteering story to share please find a list of questions here.

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