INsite asks Delia Middleton what attracted her to volunteering and what a typical day involves.
Could you please share your career journey? How did you get into the role you’re in now?
Delia: I have always had an affinity with older adults and had a very close relationship with my grandmother who passed away over seven years ago. Workwise, in the past couple of years I have downshifted from a corporate marketing career to a portfolio of work that has been more people oriented and involved helping others. This includes being a driver for Driving Miss Daisy, a medical receptionist, a lifestyle assistant with Charlie’s Angels, and a soon to be administrator for Age Concern’s Volunteer Visitor Service. I also wanted to free up time for voluntary work and to explore my passion for older adults, and specifically assisting them to overcome social isolation and loneliness. For this reason, I applied with Age Concern to be a visitor and was fortunate to be matched in December 2016 with a lovely 90 year old client who has a wicked sense of humour. I am also a volunteer with Make Give Live, a charity that knits beanies for the elderly and homeless.
What does a typical day at work entail?
Delia: My client lives with her family but is often home alone on weekdays so I either visit her at home once a week for a cup of tea/biscuit and chat or we go on an outing. We often go to the movies or a local cafe as she enjoys the opportunity to get out of the house. I have also arranged for my client to attend two older adult groups. One on a Tuesday in Birkenhead and another on Thursdays in Beachhaven for both of which transport is arranged as she is not able to drive herself which contributes to isolation and loneliness.
What do you love most about your job?
Delia: I love knowing that my contact and visits/outings with my client are helping to enhance her life and reduce the isolation and loneliness felt. She tells me so, which is very satisfying. I thoroughly enjoy our time together. It is a mutually beneficial relationship. My client has a wonderful sense of humour and is always keen to share her life stories and pearls of wisdom from having experienced 90 years of life thus far.
I have also enjoyed getting to know the team at Age Concern North Shore and have been well trained and supported by the co-ordinator Kathryn McMahon. They provide an excellent range of resources, in particular an Information Directory for Older Adults and a Calendar of Activities for Older Adults on the North Shore. This has proved to be an invaluable resource. I have also recently attended my first visitor volunteer group session which gave me the opportunity to meet other visitor volunteers, some of whom have been visiting clients for 20 or more years. We received training on helping clients to safeguard their homes (an ACC initiative) and falls prevention. I got to share these learnings/resources with my client and family.
And what are the most challenging aspects?
Delia: I have an irregular work schedule so it is challenging for me to visit my client on a set day or time each week. The minimum requirement as a visitor is one hour per week. Fortunately, my client is ok with this and is pleasantly surprised when I turn up unexpectedly. It can be challenging balancing the needs of the client with their family, however I am fortunate in that I have formed a good relationship with them and will always keep them in the communication loop. I have come to realise that my client sometimes has difficulty remembering things I tell her regarding our future outing plans so have learnt to put it in writing for her and let the family know. The positives of being a visitor most definitely outweigh any challenges encountered.
Have you taken any training or professional development which you’ve found particularly helpful to what you do?
Delia: I completed a half day course “Introductory training for Age Concern Volunteer Visitors” which included Loneliness and Health, Rights of AVS clients and volunteers, Listening effectively etc. I was also police vetted, completed an application, interview and also provided references for checking. I am also a driver for Driving Miss Daisy one day per week which requires empathy for older people, communication skills and caring qualities. I have also worked as a flight attendant. My favourite passengers were always older adults as they often liked to have a yarn and share their travel and life stories which I enjoyed.
If you could change one thing about New Zealand’s aged care or retirement industries, what would it be, and why?
Delia: I think it is wonderful that retirement villages are springing up all over Auckland which will help combat loneliness and isolation for many. However it isn’t affordable for a lot of people and pensioner facilities like the one my grandmother lived in don’t seem to be getting built by the Government any longer. This seems odd to me given the ageing population. Will we start to see more homeless pensioners in Auckland as private housing and retirement villages become unaffordable?
When you’re not working, where can you be found? (Feel free to share any personal info you’d like to, e.g. family, hobbies etc)
Delia: I can be found mostly in the great outdoors hiking and adventuring. Volunteering for Make Give Live (knitting), and fundraising for the Mental Health foundation and SPCA. Socialising with my Mum and friends, going to the movies, reading non-fiction, and taking care of two cats named Matty and Oscar whom I adore. I love animals too. I like to keep my life interesting and varied. I am well travelled and have a long list of places I would still like to visit.