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Meet the Willowmeade volunteers

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Jo Kubeil
Jo Kubeil
Jo Kubeil has recently joined the North Central Review team as a journalist, with interests in Indigenous culture, community services, and environmentalism. Jo has previously worked as an entrepreneur, designing apparel to help people feel dressed for success.

Volunteers at BlueCross Willowmeade Residential Aged Care are highly valued for the variety of experiences and relationships they bring to the residents, and last month, past and present volunteers were saluted with a special afternoon tea.

Debbie Blackall and her Cavalier Spring Spaniel Jazzie have been volunteering for four years, and she said she chose Willowmeade as she had time to spare and a very friendly dog.

“I approached them to see if they would be willing for us to come in because I have a dog who loves people. They were very willing,” she said.

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Gazza Sturdy, the Welfare Advocate at the Kilmore-Wallan Returned Services League (RSL) sub-branch, volunteers as a way of giving back to the veterans. He is known as ‘ORF’ to his friends, and his 30-year-old son is serving in the military, continuing their five generations of family service.

Nic Pratcheck was invited by the RSL to talk to the residents about beekeeping, and later to officially introduce Truffle, his accredited PTSD service dog. He said they visit weekly and have five to six regular appointments.

“They love Truffle, she’s highly trained, and I enjoy it. I was in the military and a lot of them have partners and children with connections to the war. They like having a chat about military stuff and I’m fine to talk about it. They are fascinated to hear how Truffle helps me,” he said.

“I speak to the manager to make a list of the people who don’t get visitors, and I make a beeline for their rooms.”

Anne Robotham is also a member of the RSL and loves visiting to encourage the residents to come out of their rooms. She sits with people whose ailing health conditions can isolate them and will even bring an extra chair for their visitors.

“When there’s a special occasion, they say ‘Oh Annie, can you go and get such and such.’ When there’s a new resident, I encourage them to join in with exercises,” she said.

Assumption College Kilmore student Charlie Laity is three years into her Duke of Edinburgh’s medal, an honour to recognise service in the community, and says she enjoys listening to residents’ life stories.

Judy Rutter and John Webber regularly visit resident and mum Janice Aberdeen, and when they noticed the vegetable garden, they quickly saw a way to make the residents feel useful and even more at home.

Ms Rutter taught at the Kilmore International School and said she could adapt gardening to suit all abilities.

“They left their gardens at home, and it seemed like a good way to give them something to do. I’ve got a teaching background and can reorganise ways to do simple things, like bringing the seeds inside to plant at table height,” she said.

Later, when Ms Rutter and Mr Webber became volunteers with Love in Action, they saw value in planting extra vegetables to contribute towards their food relief program and give residents an added incentive to participate.

“We had a huge snow pea harvest. We’re harvesting snap peas now and we have broad beans in,” said Ms Rutter.

“We started with one little bed, then two, and another one. [The residents] like coming out to harvest,” said Mr Webber.

Leisure and Lifestyle Activities Coordinator Alison Murphy said the wonderful volunteers complement their activities program and they build friendships with the residents, and even attend social outings together.

“One of our residents visits the Kilmore Men’s Shed and they’re helpful if we need anything. We also have a good report with U3A and Assumption College, Whittlesea and Wallan for students doing work placements. We have a good community, that’s for sure,” she said.

The only thing missing is a volunteer pianist! Previously a staff member, Amanda Cernjavic recruited her daughter Jessica to play piano for the residents. Jessica is now studying to be a doctor but continues to make time to play when she can.

A vacancy is now open for a community member of any age and ability to come and play the piano on Monday mornings for the residents. If you would like to volunteer, please phone Alison Murphy at the office on 5734 3400.

“Music is a pleasure to their ears and having all the old songs that they can sing along to brings back a lot of good memories,” Ms Murphy said.

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