When she retired about 20 years ago to look after her ill husband, Janine Hannan found she had some time on her hands. Then,  as she was walking down Victoria Road in Gladesville, she literally bumped into the answer.

“A lady at a table set up there asked me if I had a couple of hours to spare every couple of weeks, when I could visit people who didn’t get to socialise much. I jumped at the chance because I had wanted to do something like visiting older people,” says Janine

So Janine went to the old Gladesville Community Aid in Massey Street and met Lyn, who became Janine’s first co-ordinator for the community visiting program, which then became a big part of her life … for the next 20 years!  It’s a program which boosts people’s quality of life by creating opportunities for social interaction, sharing interests, and friendly support. Volunteer visitors are matched to a client, taking into account the volunteer’s and client’s interests, background and availability.

“The lady I visit now, Noelene, is one of my favourites; she’s like everyone’s mum. It’s always a pleasure to visit her and she’s always glad to see me,” says Janine who is still committed to visiting Noelene at West Ryde although Janine herself has moved away from Gladesville to Glenhaven near Dural.

“The first lady I visited was at home with her husband who was getting early dementia and she needed a bit of respite from caring for him. It was quite funny because at first I’d arrive and ask her how she was – the first few times she said, ‘Oh, not too good’.  After I’d visited a while, the answer was ‘Oh, not too bad’. Later it became, ‘Lovely to see you’.  It was great to make progress and she was the sweetest lady. When we met, she was 86 and I visited her for five years until she got dementia and went into a nursing home.”

In those days there was no training for community visitors.

“You were winging it as you went along. After I was visiting for a few years, training started and I found there was a multitude of rules I had already broken – but not in a bad way. I was told not to give any personal details and never give your phone number (too late for me) but the rules haven’t detracted from the pleasure of visiting.”

Today’s volunteer visitors are taken through Sydney Community Services’ policies plus the expectations, rights, and responsibilities of volunteers, and also guidelines for safe home visiting. In the past 20 years, Janine has visited half a dozen people in their homes, taking some on outings while others were not able to go out.

The community visitors program supports people who have limited family and social contact but the visits often give the volunteer visitor as much joy as they give the person being visited.

“It gives me pleasure to see Noelene and know I brighten up her day a little, but not as much as she brightens up mine!” says Janine. “I’ll keep visiting the gorgeous Noelene as long as I can,” says Janine who will eventually switch to a similar volunteering role nearer her home.

Sydney Community Services coordinates community visiting in people’s homes and residential visiting in aged-care facilities. See more at https://www.sydneycs.org/services-for-seniors/community-visitors/