Volunteer Sue Anderson, has helped Deborah White reconnect with her local community in New South Wales, Australia, thanks to an initiative to help combat isolation and vulnerability.
“MATES (the program initiative) has led to a huge change in my life and the weekly outings with Sue have allowed me to rebuild my self esteem”, said Debora White.
The MATES program was established by Red Cross in 1986. It aims to help ‘reconnect socially isolated people to their local communities’, reported Project Officer, Kerry Curd. “Participants come from a variety of backgrounds and may include people with a mental or physical illness, people who have been or who are homeless, and the frail and elderly”, continued Kerry.
Deborah White is a single mum with two teenage girls who has been diagnosed with a number of illnesses from the age of 30. She found herself very isolated and almost afraid to go out, and that’s when she contacted Red Cross. “I raised the girls on my own and didn’t have much support”, said Deborah. Then “after losing my parents I started to feel lost and angry”, she continued. Deborah was then integrated into the MATES program.
At the same time, Primary school teacher Sue Anderson who had reduced her working hours some years ago was introduced to the Red Cross MATES program when she asked if she could volunteer to work with people in the local community. “My family was all grown up and I wanted to do something I could get involved with”, said Sue.
Sue and Deborah were paired together and found that the social get-togethers, promoted by the MATES program, led to a lasting friendship. “I was a little worried”, stated Sue “but I soon found I could do this and seeing a whole new person emerge in Deb was very rewarding for me”. Deborah had similar apprehensions and said, “in the beginning I felt so low, but Sue was very patient and that’s what I needed at the time”.
After 12 months of regular social visits, outings and general support, Sue confirmed the success of the program and said, “we found we liked the same things and as time went on we discovered we had lots in common”.
Red Cross are currently running over 50 projects worldwide with an aim to ‘provide relief in times of crisis, care when it's needed most, and commitment when others turn away’, said Bruce Wardley, Media adviser for Australian Red Cross. The MATES program itself matches around 300 people each year with MATES volunteers across Tasmania, New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory and South Australia.
The MATES program continues to be a great success because “MATES volunteers provide friendship and support through regular social visits and outings. Activities may include participating in community interest groups, trips to the footy, galleries or cafes, friendly in-home visits or simply going for walks. MATES also holds regular get-togethers for both participants and volunteers to provide an informal opportunity for people to chat, enjoy a cup of tea or coffee and share their experiences of the program’, said a statement from Red Cross.
The success of the project was highlighted by Deborah who confirmed, “we both feel as if we have ownership of the program”. This was reinforced by Sue who said that, “the MATES program has been fantastic”; both agreeing that the partnership has far from ended.
Deborah continues to challenge herself and is now being trained as a volunteer herself in the MATES program, which is a testament to this program and the amazing work that Red Cross continue to do - big or small.
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