Jill McAtamney is a volunteer for young and old. She now visits seniors as part of Sydney Community Services’ In-home Visiting Program. When she first came to Sydney from Queensland in 2000 as a teacher, she had thoughts of retiring or at least working less and doing something new she’d always wanted to do – work with babies and toddlers.
Jill had raised two sons without help from family so later, as an older woman, she knew she could offer good experience in that area. She volunteered with the Benevolent Society’s program assisting parents who don’t have any family support.
“I worked with lovely newborn twins first and then there was a busy family with three – four years and under! I did childminding and whatever help was needed on the day. Most important and most appreciated was conversation with an older woman over a cuppa,” says Jill.
Later, when the second family no longer needed her help, Jill went back to teaching – general primary, music and special-education students. Around that time, she noticed Red Cross had a program called ‘caring hands’.
“The Red Cross trained me to do simple manicures and facials for residents in aged care and hospital situations who would appreciate the care and touch of another person as well as the service itself,” says Jill. “I thoroughly enjoyed it, too, because I lost my parents when I was very young. While the seniors were enjoying conversation and touch, I was getting so much from them as well.”
Jill then started working with TAFE, teaching literacy and numeracy to new arrivals into Australia, and also doing ‘learner support’ – helping students across hair, beauty and nails courses. After a decade teaching, government funding for many TAFE courses was withdrawn; so ended a happy era and a great career in teaching.
Keen to work with older people again, Jill contacted Hunters Hill-Ryde Community Services (later Sydney Community Services) and started volunteering on monthly day trips for seniors. There were many months when Jill also volunteered for the seniors’ day program at SCS Hunters Hill Community Hub and played piano for dementia clients.
“We sang all the old songs and I played requests – we had a riotous time,” she says, but a trip away intervened.
“I wanted to make a commitment but had travel on my agenda, too. I told Bernadine, the program’s co-ordinator, that I could be away every couple of years. Bernadine said she understood perfectly,” says Jill.
So she started home visiting about four years ago, first visiting an Italian lady living alone with whom she had enormous fun.
“She loved to dance; her forte was jiving – and I was the first one to be puffed out!” says Jill. “She also tried to teach me conversational Italian – unsuccessfully!”
Before the virus landed, Jill was visiting another music lover, a Greek lady, who also lives on her own.
“We often put music on and have a singalong. She loves to talk, too, and takes me right back to when she first arrived here just after the war.”
Jill’s brief from the lady’s family is to get their 85-year-old mum to exercise.
“So I say “Right, we’re going for a walk now!” and she roars laughing at me – she’s an absolute delight! It’s usually a two-hour visit, sometimes three: we walk or go out to play bingo, enjoy some music, and sometimes lunch together.”
Because Jill is a music teacher, program coordinator Bernadine matched her with clients who love music and have other common interests – singing, dancing, travel and cooking. Now that the virus is around, the visits are postponed, but Jill calls her friend fortnightly and sends cards in the post.
“We miss each other.” she says, “We’re hoping we’ll be able to see each other again soon.”
There are many ways to volunteer with Sydney Community Services – see our volunteering page
SCS runs an In-home Visiting Program and a Residential Visiting Program, which aim to improve the quality of life for people in their homes and in aged care facilities. See details at our Community Visitors page