An innovative program designed to combat loneliness and isolation among elderly members of the community by matching them with caring volunteers is being significantly expanded.
The Community Visitors Scheme has been renamed the Aged Care Volunteer Visitors Scheme (ACVVS) and extended across Victoria.
The program seeks to establish and nurture social connections by providing friendship and companionship through dedicated volunteers.
The scheme is being run by Elder Rights Advocacy (ERA), an organisation providing information and advocacy support to older people and their families and representatives.
The organisation hopes to provide up to 785 matches between its volunteers and seniors in residential care or living at home and receiving aged care services.
Volunteers will have the opportunity to visit older people weekly or fortnightly.
Elder Rights Advocacy CEO Debra Nicholl said meaningful connections are vital to combatting social isolation among elderly Australians.
“Our enhanced scheme ensures that we match volunteers with similar interests, backgrounds, and preferences, fostering genuine relationships that improve the quality of life for older people,” she said.
Ms Nicholl said there were many reasons why elderly people may feel isolated and alone.
They ranged from limited contact with friends or relatives or lost connections with their culture or heritage to poor health preventing them from taking part in in social or leisure activities.
“Therefore, it is fundamental that ERA continues to take a proactive approach in supporting those who need friendship, conversation and connection the most,” said Ms Nicholl.
The scheme will extend beyond face-to face-connection to include phone calls, virtual contact and letter writing.
“We can be flexible in our approach to achieve a positive outcome,” said Ms Nicholl.
The expansion of the program, which is free for participants, follows recommendations put forward by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety and is being funded by the Department of Health and Ageing.
The Volunteers Coordinator at ERA, Megan Collisson, described the program as “intimate with a grassroots approach.”
She said volunteers are carefully selected and possess a sincere desire to alleviate social isolation faced by older people, along with a deep understanding of the complex health challenges they may encounter.
Equipped with practical social skills, ERA volunteers will listen, empathise and engage with older people in a way that best suits the individual they are matched with.
"If you are a reliable, confident, and caring individual seeking to make a positive difference in an older person's life, we encourage you to join us as a volunteer visitor.”
Fran Cecil, 63 is one such person who has answered the call.
An ERA volunteer for three years, the married grandmother who shares the family home with her mother-in-law said she gets enormous satisfaction from volunteering.
“I have always enjoyed the company of others and have a great interest in people's history. I also have empathy for people who are alone and or lonely. ERA allows me to mesh both,” she said.
She has so far formed connections with four elderly people, visiting two at home, talking to one over the phone and visiting one in an aged care facility.
“I get a sense of satisfaction out of volunteering, as I believe we add to another person's life,” said Fran.
“The best moment for me is when these people introduce me as their friend.”
The expanded scheme is open to any older person residing in an aged care home or awaiting or receiving support in their own home through a home care package, but it will focus particularly on those who identify with a marginalised group or use English is a second language.
“If you are a reliable, confident, and caring individual seeking to make a positive difference in an older person's life, we encourage you to join us as a volunteer visitor,” said Megan.
“Your contribution can bring immense joy and companionship to someone in need."
To learn more about the Aged Care Volunteer Visitors Scheme and to register your interest as a volunteer or refer an older person for this program, contact Elder Rights Advocacy on 1800 700 600.