Creating moments of joy

Publish date: 15 March 2024

He looked like Tom Jones and sounded like Tom Jones. The fact that he was not the Welsh singer mattered not a jot to Karen Fewster’s delighted client.

“We have client meetings every month to ask them what they liked from the last program, what they didn't like, what do they want for morning tea, that kind of thing,” Karen explains.

“And one of the clients would always say when it came to entertainment: Tom Jones. I thought ‘well I can’t get the real thing’, so I tracked down a gentleman called Wayne Stanley, a Tom Jones impersonator, and we surprised her. She still talks about it to this day and that was a couple of Septembers ago.”

The coordinator for Bethanie’s Port Kennedy Social Centre Hub is always looking for ways to make clients feel special. She wants them to have the kind of social interaction that will help ward off loneliness and keep them in their own homes for as long as possible.

All you need to join the friendly community is the appropriate social support group referral from an Aged Care Assessment Team (ACAT).

“You get picked up, you get a two-course lunch, and entertainment, and we take you home – it's a lot of fun,” she says.

Karen’s husband and his uncle encouraged her to work in aged care just over 20 years ago after the travel consultancy she was employed at closed.

“My husband’s mother was quite ill and we were looking after her at home and then she passed away. They said I should become a carer, but I said I didn’t have the qualifications, I need at least a Certificate III, but they kept on and on,” she says.

Finally, she decided to apply for a job to prove them wrong. “I went for the interview, I was there an hour and I wasn’t even halfway home when they rang to say they wanted me to join them.”

Karen obtained her qualifications on the job as a support worker, going out to people’s homes five days a week to help them with whatever was needed.

“I love working to keep people in their own homes because I think everyone thrives when they're in their own surroundings,” she says. “You know yourself when you’ve been in hospital that feeling when you can leave and you just want to get in ‘my bed, in my room with my things’. it just makes you feel better.”

Sometimes the clients wouldn’t have anyone else. "They would come out of hospital and wouldn’t have anyone to come home to and so I would go and stay with them,” Karen says. “And I just loved it. I loved listening to their stories, to their lives. I mean they have seen more changes in their lifetime than any of us will ever see. They didn’t have a fridge, they didn’t have a washing machine ... it’s just an incredible amount of change that the elderly have seen.”

It’s one of the reasons Karen feels privileged to now be charged with keeping her community entertained at the centre, which runs five days a week.  She has been with Bethanie for a decade, first as a support worker, and then at the centres.

“Some clients come with us and we don't know what their past is and what they’ve done because they've got dementia. But our social centre is all about giving them an experience on the day,” she says.

“Okay, they may not remember it tomorrow. They may not even remember it tonight when they get home but, in that moment, they have had a really good time and enjoyed themselves and been encouraged to join in.”

Activities are as varied as the clients. Some days Karen brings in entertainment, such as the pseudo-Tom Jones or the West Australian Symphony Orchestra’s string section. On other days Karen and her team – six staff and three volunteers across the two centres - might take the group out to a restaurant or park, or a longer excursion.

“We take them on a big day trip once a month or every second month – we’ve gone down to Dwellingup to Bunbury, Harvey, Waroona and we go to the Swan Valley twice a year,” she says.

Even during COVID when they couldn’t take everyone to a restaurant, they would pack up camper fridge-freezers and put them on the bus, along with camping chairs and tables, for a picnic.

The bus trips themselves are an occasion, with singalongs to everything from Celine Dion to Neil Diamond, and staff taking requests for the likes of Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini .

There’s also the chance back at the centres to show some artistic flair. “We have an art show that the social centres do every year – this year it was at West Perth, last year it was Bunbury and two years before I did it at Port Kennedy,” Karen says. “Whoever’s running it that year chooses the categories and we do different pieces for different categories; it can be painting, photography, jewellery making. The art is shown for a week and we generally get the executives to be the judges.”

Whatever the team is doing with their clients, Karen never loses sight of the end goal.

“My biggest joy is seeing the smiles on their faces when I take them home knowing that they may not remember it tomorrow, but today they had a good day,” she says. “Seeing my team interacting with them as well - they might be doing a word game, or we're doing Hangman interactive on TV, but everybody's in on making the day extra special.”

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