Volunteer Stories

Thankful and giving back - Marion Mitchell

Marion MitchellWhen Marion came to Australia in 2012 to take up a  2 year contract as a practising dentist in Gladstone Queensland, she got far more than treating dental conditions!

Prior to this Marion, who trained to be a dentist at Glasgow University, had been a dentist in a London practice for many years.

Not long after taking up the position in Queensland, her partner Tim had a devastating illness which was a viral attack on his heart muscles. Tim spent 18 months in rehabilitation in a hospital in Brisbane and thankfully made a full recovery.

This experience led Marion into volunteering. As she explains, “After dealing with Tim’s fortunate recovery I felt I wanted to give back to society and help others in some way.”

After they moved to Adelaide Marion noticed an advertisement in her local paper where the Women’s and Children’s Health Network was advertising for volunteers to join their newly formed Guide Team. At this stage of her life she had the time and it seemed like the right opportunity for her. Marion was successful in her application and training and she now can be seen in her role on Monday mornings and also likes to fill in for others if the opportunity arises.

She tells me she meets a lot of nice people, finds it easy to fit in and really enjoys the comradery with her fellow volunteers. In her previous job as a dentist she was used to dealing with the public, especially children, and feels very comfortable working as a member of a team. Let’s hope Marion continues in her valued volunteer role for many years to come!

Age is no barrier

Jean taitJean can be found on Thursday mornings volunteering in the Volunteer Haven at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital, where she applies her eye to detail making up the ‘first visit packs‘ for Women’s Outpatients. This is a pack made up of a dozen forms that women, at their first outpatient appointment, receive. Jean will easily make 100 packs per week and although this is a job that is done ‘behind the scenes’ it is a valued role she has been performing for 12 years.

Jean loves the friendly atmosphere and the ‘passing parade’ of staff, visitors and volunteers that frequent the Volunteer Haven on a Thursday. She has made many friends and often finds herself as the ‘pseudo receptionist’.

Jean and her husband Albert hail from Scotland. Her husband in particular, hated the Scottish cold climate and in 1965 they and their 3 children immigrated to Australia as “10 pound Poms” to escape the Scottish winters and start a new life. The children were aged 15, 13 and 7 at the time. Jean remembers that Evelyn their oldest, was very upset at the time and cried nonstop on their train journey to catch the boat to Australia. She was not happy at having to leave her friends behind!

Jean and Albert had researched where they would like to settle in Australia and Adelaide, SA came up trumps. They were very attracted by the temperate South Australian climate. After their arrival they were settled in a migrant hostel in the Adelaide Hills. A couple of days later Albert walked down the road to a factory which gave him work and he remained in work until his retirement.

Jean and Albert retired to York Peninsula where they renovated an old house – Albert was a "handyman". Sadly Albert was diagnosed with cancer in 1982 and died in 1985. Jean stayed on in the house until 1989 after which she returned to Adelaide and settled in the Adelaide Hills .In those years following Albert’s death Jean busied herself volunteering with various organizations such as, The Cancer Council and Red Cross.

Sorrow visited Jean again when she found her daughter Brenda was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma and later developed a brain tumour- dying at the age of 51.

Jean tells me her children, grandchildren and now great grandchildren bring her immense joy as she enjoys the closing years of her life.

Travel has been one of her favourite pastimes .She and Albert had several trips back to Scotland together. Since then Jean has travelled 8 times across to Europe and Greece. She is not daunted travelling alone and has also enjoyed several cruises.

Another of Jean's pleasures was learning to drive as it gave her so much freedom and allowed her to be independent. Last year, at the age of 88 Jean decided to give up that pleasure as she had begun to feel “uncertain” in some situations on the road. Now her friends and family make sure they take her on trips and outings.

Jean is a legacy widow, still attends their meetings and attends church on Sundays. She takes advantage of the Council bus for her shopping.

When I ask about "excitement" in her life she tells me she just learns to take things in her stride!

She is presently planning a celebration for her forthcoming 90th birthday which I’m sure will bring her some excitement on such a momentous occasion! Jean's story is indeed one filled with happiness, sorrow, resilience as well as learning to just get on with life and help others along the way.

A smile costs nothing

GlynisGlynis greets me with an ever expanding smile exhibiting care and warmth. Her infectious smile is well known by the parents and patients in Cassia Ward where she volunteers as a Family Support volunteer on Thursdays. Her dad always taught her that “a smile costs nothing” and I can see that Glynis is full of smiles and compassion for others.

As Glynis has built trust with parents she is able to offer them some respite care as she sits with their children so they can take a break, have a meal, tend to other children in the family and for a myriad of other reasons. Many of these children are long term patients so respite for parents is greatly valued by families and staff. Glynis especially likes to cuddle the babies and with the permission of nursing staff can and offer them some “warmth” in the process.

She grew up in a Maori community in New Zealand. At that time, in the 60’s and 70’s, there were many social problems in that community connected to alcohol. Her parents were both hardworking people and nurtured good values in their children as they raised their family. Those values have stayed with her and she has passed them on to her own 3 children.

Before children Glynis worked for a bank in New Zealand. She met her husband Geoff (also a bank employee) over the phone! They were in different towns in New Zealand and initially the conversations were about work .The conversations became longer and longer and soon Geoff managed a transfer to Glynis’ bank branch. As she says the rest is history! They married and in 1979 Glynis and Geoff, who was Australian, moved to Adelaide on a 5 year trial. It was hard going because Glynis really missed that close connection with her Maori family. Together they had 3 beautiful children and all adjusted to a new life in Australia.

Before retirement Glynis worked for the ANZ bank in Mt Barker.

One of her children, Bryan, who now works as a paediatric cardiologist in New Zealand, suggested that Glynis apply to volunteer at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital (WCH) when she retired at the age of 58. I think her son knew his mum well and realized how much she had to give!

Joy permeates Glynis’ life as she reflects on her family both here and in New Zealand. Her husband, children and now grandchildren are a continuing source of much enjoyment in her life.

Glynis’ volunteering isn’t just restricted to the WCH. She also finds time to volunteer in her grandchildren’s classes at school and on another day of the week she can be found volunteering at Meals on Wheels. As she says she works at both ends of the spectrum!
In October the family are planning a big celebration when Glynis turns 60 and one of her daughter’s turns 40. She says they are planning a big party and it will be a great excuse for family and friends to come together again. She is so looking forward to this occasion!
Glynis’ positive attitude is contagious as she believes that “life is exciting and you never know what will happen today!”

A Blissful Bloke – Nicholas Rose

Nicholas RoseAs we begin to chat Nick tells me he is a "newbie" to volunteering at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital, meaning that he has only been in the job for 12 months. His mother in law who has volunteered at Women’s and Children’s Hospital for 10 years (Betty Major), encouraged him to apply. Now Nick delivers equipment and supplies to patients’ homes every 1st & 3rd Tuesday of the month and tells me that he loves what he does. He begins his mornings at 9 am and usually is finished by lunchtime, using a vehicle supplied by the hospital. Nick also volunteers as a Zoo Guide which he began in 1988 and is still occupied in that role 30 years later!

When I ask him about what has brought joy into his life he tells me that migrating to Australia (from the East End in London) in 1979 and taking up a new life here fills the bill! He met his wife Wendy when he returned to the UK for a visit. Together they decided to try life in Australia for 3 years and they both discovered it was great, settling at Brahma Lodge and making a home together. Wendy’s parents had immigrated here in 1966 as “ten pound Poms“and they were immensely helpful in helping Nick adjust to an Aussie way of life.

When I ask Nick about any "disappointments" in his life he recalls a time when he was 21, working for someone in London for 3 - 4 years. He said he didn’t really have his heart in the position and it all boiled over into an argument and he left. That was at a time when jobs in the UK were plentiful – employers would take you on and they were prepared to train you in the position even though you didn’t have any real experience. He adds, it is vastly different now!

He tells me he is grateful for his good health, although he works at it eating sensibly and exercising by swimming to keep fit – a pastime he and Wendy share together.

The most exciting thing that has happened to Nick was his marriage to Wendy and discovering new horizons as they faced their new life together in Australia. He tells me the garden is Wendy’s domain and he has quickly learnt to "just follow orders"! I think we would all like a Nick in our gardens!

Nick’s last visit to the UK was for a very special reason - when his grandfather turned 100. As a result of that he appeared on the front page of the local paper in a story about that special celebration.

Nick comes across as being very satisfied and contented with his life here. He took early retirement at 63 for family reasons, to help care for his mother-in-law. He likes to read, to fish, do crosswords and he always has a jigsaw on the go on the dining room table. Nick is indeed a” blissful bloke” and it was a pleasure talking to someone so contented with their life!

A volunteer worth cloning!

Geoff White and babyWhen I met with Geoff to talk about his role as a volunteer with the Women’s and Children’s Hospital (WCH) I discovered that he also volunteers with five other organisations: Calvary Wakefield Hospital, COTA, Legacy, St Peter’s Cathedral and Anglicare. A really busy volunteer!

Geoff began volunteering at WCH in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit about seven years ago.  He found that he really wanted a bit more interaction with patients, so two years later transferred to Cassia Ward where he assists the Play Therapist. The resulting patient and carer contact brings him great personal satisfaction.

When asked what has given him joy in his life, he quickly responded, “My children and grandchildren”. In keeping with the times during his working life, he was the principal breadwinner, which necessitated significant time away from his family.   He regrets that he was, therefore, unable to spend as much time with his children as he would have liked.

He once accepted a work transfer to Canada for two years. The family packed up to head for Calgary, leaving Australia in a temperature of 38 degrees and arriving in Canada in minus 40 degrees. Quite a shock to the system!

Geoff is a bit of a train buff and emphasises that he particularly likes “proper” trains. I asked him if he was referring to steam trains and got an affirmative nod. He was part of a group of fifty others who hired a train in Sri Lanka, a country with an extensive rail network. They were told that on no account were they to hit a cow on their travels; cows are sacred in Sri Lanka!

Geoff is grateful that he no longer needs to rely on paid employment and is able to enjoy the relative freedom of retirement. He quite clearly enjoys his volunteering roles and speaks modestly about what he does. We could do with a few more Geoff’s in this world to take on some of the many volunteering roles available. Thanks, Geoff, for all you do.

A Perfect Fit

Melanie KeoughI begin my conversation with Melanie Keogh by asking her about her volunteering role at the Women's and Children's Hospital (WCH). I am immediately aware of a huge smile which lights up her face and in fact her whole being.

She works mainly in children's day surgery in Campbell ward where she assists the ward clerk in admin tasks and also sending out a discharge summary to patients and GP’s as well as making up day packs .The work also involves filing, answering phones as well as greeting parents and giving them information.

In Melanie’s own words she tells me "Volunteering has reinstalled a real sense of purpose and pride in my life. It gives me a good structure to my week and I feel like I’m back in main stream society after being a stay-at-home mum." She goes on to say that she enjoys being part of a team, feeling worthwhile, interacting with people in the work place - all of which have led to an increased confidence over time. I think there are many volunteers who can readily relate to all of those benefits!

Melanie began her volunteering in October 2015 when her daughter Abby (now 5 and at school) started kindy. Her neighbour talked to her about the WCH and the possibility of getting involved in some volunteer activities. It is very clear that the two half days that Melanie devotes to the WCH have clearly changed her life as she speaks with such enthusiasm for her work there.

Prior to the birth of her daughter Melanie was a serving member of the Australian Defence Force involved in mental health and counselling. At the age of 24 she moved to the USA where she took up some studies in psychology at Berkley University.

Melanie is very grateful for her daughter Abby who brings her much joy every day, also her health and fabulous circle of friends and community who share in her life.

It seems to me that Melanie and the WCH are the "perfect fit!"

A Joyful Journey

Gill WilliamsYou will find Gill Williams on the 3rd floor of the Queen Victoria Building, (Zone F) of the Women’s and Children’s Hospital (WCH), where she reigns supreme as “Queen” of the photocopier as she fulfils her volunteer duties for the Midwifery Group Practice (MGP) on Tuesday mornings.

She doesn’t tire of her work as she knows how valuable the information sheets are to the staff and prospective clients. Gill feels really appreciated by the staff and she is the only volunteer in this area where she really appreciates the friendships she has made.

Friendships are important to Gill as she is a relative “newcomer” to our country having emigrated here in October 2008. Gill grew up in Northern England in the UK. Whilst at College in Sheffield she met Peter, (her future husband) on a “blind date” – yes, some of us still know what that term means!! They had a son Neil, who attended university in the UK but always wanted to travel and he came to Australia in 2001 on a working visa.

Gill’s working life in the UK involved working at a Tourist Information Centre for 20 years. She loved the job, interacting constantly with people and she never ever knew what question would be coming next!

Gill and Peter visited Australia on holidays and discovered that in Gill’s words “people still had respect for Australia and each other”. Gill well remembers one lunch, where her husband Peter announced that he thought they should immigrate to Australia to enjoy this wonderful country and of course to be near their son Neil, his wife Cate and grandson Rowan. The emotion of that enormous decision and joy resulted in tears running down Gill’s cheeks.

Thus began a long and arduous process which saw them settle in Adelaide and 4 years later they became “Aussies” at a citizenship ceremony at the Adelaide Town Hall. One day, by chance she and Peter were enjoying a walk which took them past the WCH and Gill emailed the next day to enquire about the possibility of volunteering as she really wanted to give back to the community. A prompt reply by Cynthia Baldwin resulted in an interview and a place for Gill in the MGP.

Sometime after they had settled into Adelaide, Gill spent some time researching her family’s history in the State Library. She didn’t really know a great deal about her heritage but was stunned to discover that her ”nanna” on her mother’s side of the family was named Adelaide! She said she felt goosebumps and reflected that she and Peter had made a good decision to come here.

Gill and Peter still continue to enjoy all that Adelaide has to offer. They are especially passionate about football, whereupon I have to enquire whether she means AFL or soccer! The answer is definitely football per favour of the UK!

Gill has no plans to retire from volunteering as she enjoys it so much.

A Gift to the Women’s and Children’s Hospital

Colleen HawkesMeet someone who knows the meaning of hard work and resilience – Colleen Hawkes!

Colleen’s remarkable association with the Women’s and Children’s Hospital (WCH) began over 50 years ago, when as young woman, she trained here as a nurse and spent many happy and rewarding years predominantly in Rose Ward. She understood full well the importance of always observing the child, being aware of their situation and always looking for clues as to what might be happening for a particular child during the course of their illness.

Colleen grew up in the country as her father was a community doctor and her mother fulfilled the role of doctor’s wife. They were both very capable role models, passing on important values to Colleen. Those same values carry on in her life today and she is very grateful to her parents having raised her as they did.

She recalls that her father didn’t have a day off in 16 years!! That incredible work ethic along with always serving the community has been passed along to Colleen and is evident from her many, many years of service to WCH.

As a young student she went to boarding school where she learnt about responsibilities, resilience and unselfishness. Those qualities stood her in good stead as she embarked on her nursing training where the trainee nurses learnt to care, share and help solve each other’s problems. They developed a strong sense of community – all values which reflect Colleen’s earlier upbringing.

She says she came out of nursing with much more than a career!

Marriage saw Colleen living in various rural areas of SA and she eventually settled in the Coorong with her husband where together they raised 3 children. Watching her three children – 2 girls and a boy, grow and develop, along with a magical life in the country, bought much joy into her life. During this time she was active in getting a local community school at Salt Creek up and running. She canvassed the district and eventually the school began with 10 students and later increased to 70! She was proud that the school became the hub of the local community.

Colleen and MaryColleen and Jenny Fereday

These days you will find Colleen in the Volunteers Haven along with other volunteers whom she has befriended. Colleen enjoys her work there, interacting with the others who share many laughs together as well as solving the world’s problems easily within a couple of hours.

Lunch is a special highlight for her as she interacts with old friends who enjoy this special time together.

She declares the WCH has always been a friendly, welcoming place and looks forward to her work each week.

Colleen, you are indeed a “true gift” to the Women’s and Children’s Health Network community.