Everything changed the moment I met Mary. This wonderful woman is 97 years old and suffers from late-stage dementia. I met her while being given a tour by Team Leader Tony in St. Mary’s Hospital, where she has lived for the last twenty years.
Dementia steals your ability to communicate verbally and Mary has barely spoken to anyone for ten years. As dementia slowly affects her physically, mealtimes had become a difficult and lonely place, filled with small but insurmountable problems. This means she often may not finish all that is on her plate, putting her at risk of malnourishment. That is until Plate Pal volunteer Tony came in to her life to sit with her for lunch three times a week, providing the gentle reminders and encouragement to eat that Mary needs so much for her well-being. I’ll never forget hearing Tony’s proud story of the first day she communicated with him after one whole year of patient mealtime companionship. I left that hospital with a new direction, Plate Pals.
One third of older people in care are at risk of malnourishment but there is hope: volunteer involvement has been recommended as a possible solution by a number of reports. Volunteers can provide the full hour it takes an older person in need to finish their meal, which the wonderful nurses and care-assistants are not always in a position to provide. Quietly, calmly and patiently, Plate Pal volunteers are saving lives.
As Plate Pals Coordinator I have the privilege of recruiting, training and supporting a growing number of volunteers as well as managing the expansion of this important programme. My journey began two years ago volunteering with Kim and Edwina in Dublin City South Volunteer Centre. There I learned much of the best practice I still use today, as well as creating vital ties to Volunteer Ireland, which have been essential in my growth as a volunteer manager.
The Volunteer Management Training provided me with a structure to build our current recruitment, training and selection processes and volunteer.ie provides a steady stream of prospective volunteers but more than that it’s the support they provide that really makes a difference. If I have any question I can’t answer I know I can call the gang on Thomas Street and be given quality, informed advice from the best in the business.
Volunteers mean everything to us in Care Local, they are always there on the ground, ensuring we continue to provide important services to those most vulnerable and isolated of older people. I wish could explain to everyone how the atmosphere of a nursing-home dining-room changes when a Plate Pal is there. Suddenly we’re all transported to our kitchen table, filled with laughing, happy people sharing stories of their day. Just imagine how important that is for men and women who can no longer live with their families. That’s why every single day, I do this for Mary.
For more information on Plate Pals go to www.carelocal.ie or contact us in the volunteer centre.