Forging Friendships

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Forging Friendships

April 15, 2018

Meredith Pankhurst started volunteering at OCAV’s Braeside Park village 18 months ago as a community service. After a few months she realised she had found a friend. Meredith volunteers most weeks as a companion to resident Ali Gwyer, 78, who lives in an assisted living apartment. Ali agrees the arrangement has morphed into a lovely friendship.

 

Each week, or fortnight, Meredith (pictured left) visits Ali at the Berwick village and the pair goes out for a coffee or to an appointment. Meredith regularly takes Ali to armchair yoga at nearby Cranbourne, followed by a coffee.

 

Like many volunteers Meredith, who lives around the corner from Braeside Park, discovered early on that the arrangement was of mutual benefit.

 

“My daughter encouraged me to look into volunteering and I found that OCAV was looking for people,” Meredith said. Little did she realise that she was to be a volunteer companion to a woman who shared many similar interests.

 

Meredith and her husband, once owned a child care centre and Ali taught most of her life, from kindergarten-aged children right through to TAFE students. They also both love gardening and reading.

 

“One of the things we also have in common is that we prefer one-to-one connections rather than large groups,” Ali said. Meredith isn’t one for clubs and larger organisations and enjoys the time she spends chatting with Ali.

 

Ali, who lives with chronic osteo-arthritis, a heart condition and a complex range of other health issues, believes the move to Braeside Park has had a major beneficial impact on her health. She attributes her well being to the care of staff and the nutritious meals provided.

 

Ali gets around the apartment and village using a walker and for any longer trips she uses an electronic scooter parked nearby. She regularly goes into Berwick, which is a short ride. Her apartment is perfectly laid out for someone with mobility problems and she moves about with ease.

 

Meredith’s companionship has added something special to Ali’s life at Braeside Park.

 

“Meredith has become an important lifeline for me. We talk easily and nothing seems too much trouble for her. Just today she is calling in to pick up some sandals and take them to get fixed up. I’m on my own so if it wasn’t for Meredith I wouldn’t have a friend to help me with these sort of things,” Ali said.

 

“There’s a real balance between having someone hover over me when we go out, and not knowing when I need help. Meredith is so considerate, it just happens naturally.”

 

“I’ve struck gold and I am so thankful.”

 

Meredith is also happy with the arrangement and feels comfortable heading off for holidays with her husband when they can. Though she rings Ali when she is away to check that all is well.

 

“Volunteering has been good for me because it makes me feel good to be able to use my time to help someone. As well as that I have made a friend,” Meredith said.

 

Pete Zawacki drove to Leith Park twice a week to visit his mother, Helen, until her death a year ago. After she died he wanted to honour her memory and ‘repay’ the kindness staff showed her by volunteering.

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