Waterford Contact Project is a fantastic initiative which is aimed at ensuring older people stay connected within their community.
I first reported on this befriending and visitation project for older people in April 2014, and on a recent return to St Brigid’s Family & Community Centre, Lower Yellow Road, I found that the project is going from strength to strength.
The Waterford Contact Project is a simple concept but one which is generating many significant benefits.
A volunteer is paired up with an elderly member of the community who they visit at a time that suits both.
Last summer, additional volunteers were recruited and there are now around 25 volunteers associated with the project.
Project Co-ordinator Mags Drohan says the feedback has been fantastic.
“It’s a two way process. Both the older person and the volunteer get a lot from it,” she explained.
“They enjoy the tea and chat and there’s lots of reminiscing and quality one to one time.”
In fact, it appears as though the volunteers get as much enjoyment from the visits as the people they are visiting.
“It’s a very natural process. If a time doesn’t suit us we can rearrange so that we slot in with each other,” explained Waterford Contact Project volunteer Helen Nolan.
“I thoroughly enjoy it and it’s been very rewarding. We don’t finish at a particular time, we go with whatever suits us.”
She continued: “There is a process to go through before becoming a volunteer and that’s important. I was asked to say what my interests are and I then waited to be assigned to somebody. There is care taken in order to ensure that you are matched with somebody with similar interests. I was introduced to Marian and now I have a whole new relationship in my life. We have a lot in common. We both love animals and current affairs for example and we really enjoy our chat every week.”
Helen was partnered with Marian O’Flynn.
Marian thoroughly enjoys Helen’s visits and it’s clear that a very strong friendship has been forged between them.
“It may not be for everybody but I would recommend it if you like company and like having a chat,” said Marian.
This is something which Helen agrees with.
“It doesn’t suit everybody. But if it does suit you, it’s great to have such an opportunity,” she said.
A social visit isn’t the only benefit of the Waterford Contact Project.
Volunteers can also inform older people about different events which are happening in the area such as tea dances, Christmas parties etc.
There is another important aspect to the Waterford Contact Project in that it allows volunteers to help direct older people to certain services which they may require.
Volunteers can report back if they have any concerns in relation to the health or safety of the person they are visiting.
“I know that if anything ever pops up I just have to ring Mags,” explained volunteer Helen.
“She keeps in touch with volunteers so the project is very well-run and operated on a proper basis. The training is comprehensive.”
The Waterford Contact Project is currently city based but Mags has received calls from people in rural areas who have expressed an interest in availing of the service.
“At the moment we don’t have the capacity to extend the project to rural areas even though we would love to do it,” she said.
She hopes to hold another training session for volunteers in May.
“We have a really great group of volunteers and I’d like to thank them all because without them there wouldn’t be a project. They are all so friendly, warm, committed and enthusiastic,” she said.
The Waterford Contact Project receives annual part-funding for the project from the HSE through Section 39 Grant.
The Project Steering Group then has to find the remainder of the funding each year.
For 2016 Respond! Housing Association, Clannad Care and IPB Insurance have contributed towards meeting the shortfall in funding.
While extremely grateful for this funding, the Waterford Contact Project would like to secure additional mainstream funding which they can be assured of each year.
St Brigid’s Family and Community Centre Manager Anne Goodwin says it makes sense to fund the project as older people in Waterford are getting “a better experience of life in general” through the Waterford Contact Project.
However, she says that the huge value of this project needs to be reflected in the level of funding which the project receives.
“We work with everybody from the cradle to the grave at St Brigid’s, and the Contact Project is really important but we don’t get a lot of state funding for this project,” she explained.
“We receive around €7,000 in total from the HSE for this project. We have to try to generate income through accessing different grants and funding. We’re running out of sources of funding, as you can only go back to the same pot so many times.”
She continued: “The Waterford Contact Project helps older people stay at home. The person visiting gets as much out of it as the person receiving. It also links in with other projects such as Care & Repair and those linkages are very important.”
She believes people in Waterford have become more aware of the services which are provided by St Brigid’s Centre.
“For a long time, people have just associated St Brigid’s with the Citizens Information Centre. But we have the children’s centre, two shops, counselling services, intergenerational projects, and a whole range of family support initiatives under the family resource centre.”
She added: “Sometimes I get frustrated with the merry go round of funding. St Brigid’s doesn’t have access to a big pot of money. We have two charity shops, so whatever money is raised in those shops bridges the gaps left by the funding we receive. The services we get funded for are delivered locally for the community, by the community.”
Waterford Contact Project recently received a very kind donation from the Faithlegg Residents and the project is giving an Easter Hamper to each older person who is participating in the project.
Element Pictures also donated the DVD ‘Older than Ireland’ for inclusion in each of the Easter Hampers.
The Faithlegg Residents fundraise for various causes each year and decided to support the Waterford Contact Project this year.
“It was a lovely phone call to get, and we were delighted to receive the donation,” said Mags.
“We will be delivering a hamper to each of the older people who have a visitor calling. We’re really grateful to Faithlegg group and it’s nice that they thought of our group and the older people in the area.”
The Faithlegg group certainly did choose wisely, as this is a well deserving project which will hopefully continue to go from strength to strength.
If you are an older person and would like a volunteer to visit or if you would like more information on the project please phone Mags Drohan, Project Coordinator in St Brigids, on 051 375261.