Neighbours with heart

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By Sacred Heart Mission

We all know from the famous Australian TV theme song that everybody needs good neighbours. That’s why Sacred Heart Mission is piloting the ‘Five Minute Volunteer’ program, to connect local residents with elderly neighbours who may need help with some small tasks.

At the Mission, we have a number of clients who live in community and public housing but don’t have any family or friends nearby who can help take out their bins, collect a forgotten item at the shop, or just check on their wellbeing. Many are isolated or homebound and need assistance to maintain their independence and remain living in their own homes.

We knew that there are local residents out there who are happy to check they are OK and everyday tasks for an older neighbour, but unaware of how to instigate the connection and the offer. Hence, the launch of our Five Minute Volunteer program last month which we are piloting until the end of the year.

The pilot, which is funded by the City of Port Phillip, aims to foster neighbourliness by connecting local volunteers to assist older residents in the most practical and immediate ways. We have broken the program into three clusters – East St Kilda/Balaclava, St Kilda and South Melbourne – where five local residents in each area are supported by volunteers who live nearby, such as Matt and Heather.

Originally from Canada, the couple love living in St Kilda and wanted to give back to their local community. They signed up to the Five Minute Volunteer program because it provides a type of volunteering that appeals to them. The pair met Faye, who lives in community housing and has been a part of our Homecare program for 10 years, for the first time at the launch. We’re confident they will be good neighbours to Faye and to four other residents who also live in the St Kilda area.

The “five-minute” volunteering opportunity has appealed to many younger, working people because it offers a different type of volunteering experience: it’s unscheduled, flexible, after-hours and across weekends. The concept is about being neighbourly and you can fit it into your lifestyle.

The idea for the pilot came out of the February 2014 heatwave when there were two consecutive weekends of temperatures exceeding 41 degrees. Of the 75 Homecare clients, only five had families who could check on them. There was an additional 31 clients who were deemed to be at a high or very high risk of heat related illness. Staff at the Homecare program worked over two weekends (it’s usually a Monday to Friday 9-5 program) checking on the well-being of clients: that they were drinking enough, comfortably clothed, had air conditioners on (if they had them), and were overall coping with the heat.

Now the Five Minute Volunteers can help with the wellbeing checks. For some residents, a quick phone call and someone to take out their weekly bins is all they need. For others, it’s our hope that the resident and volunteer relationship may expand into a regular chat, going out for coffee together, and possibly friendship.

Already we’re seeing the residents are benefiting from more support, having another person in their lives, greater connectedness with their community, and a reduced feeling of isolation. And the volunteers are reaping the rewards offered from participating in community life and five minutes well spent!

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Volunteer Amanda meets fellow South Melbourne resident Pat and gets tips from Neighbours star Kate Kendall on how to be a good neighbour to Pat.

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