In the second semester of 2016 we piloted the Good Neighbour Program, where our undergraduate students were able to volunteer their time with older people living in an aged care facility run by Anglicare.
The program is a social intervention for a population identified at risk, either physically or psychologically, who are isolated and have little social support outside the facility in which they reside.
The student volunteers were given few rules and were simply instructed to work on building social relationships. This entailed a variety of activities dependent on the individual's capacity and interests – from going out to restaurants, parks and shopping, to staying in watching TV, reading, and playing board games, or simply making conversation.
Importantly much of this was determined between the two people so it was very organic and authentic. This is an important aspect of building relationships, specifically when the older people may have previously experienced breaches of trust.
With regards to the success of the program, we are still analysing the data. However, anecdotally staff in the facility have reported a sense of being more supported in the work place, having more time to devote to the clinically based wellbeing of the residents. They have told us there a huge change in the energy in the facility when the students are there, and they are seeing positive changes in behaviours from the residents.
The 2016 cohort comprised 19 students, who were mainly fourth year Honours students. This semester we have extended the program to include a lot more third year students, and we have 34 participating. It’s been satisfying to see students being able to link their experiences to course content across an array of areas, and they tell us they’ve enjoyed the hands on experience.
It is hoped that we can now grow the relationship with Anglicare to extend the program to other facilities across the city.
Special thanks must go to all those involved in getting this program off the ground, specifically Jordan Reutas and Karen Perkins.
By Nicole Walker