Report: Lillian Leptos

Listening to Neelan, Alex’s direct supervisor and to Anna, the lifestyle program manager at Embracia Aged Care, I wonder if they might not be related to him. The accolades heaped on him are nothing short of outstanding!

The ladies truthfully admitted that they expected a somewhat reluctant and even grumpy child when I rang up to place a Year 9 student as a volunteer. Instead, they realised they had been sent a sensitive, hardworking and highly emotionally intelligent young man who has already contributed significantly to their program.

On his first visit, Alex arrived in the midst of ‘Happy Hour’. 

“He mingled confidently and easily with the residents, danced with them and passed around the drinks in a highly professional manner,” enthuses Neelan. “He seemed to have an instinct for how to address the older people. We just never expected a young boy to be so engaged and confident. He was so warm, respectful and responsive.

“When the activity was over, without any prompting, he pulled up his sleeves and helped with the clean-up,” she says, almost in disbelief.

Neelan and Anna could immediately see that Alex would be perfect for “1:1”. 

There are residents who are reluctant to join in the extensive program of leisure activities organised by Anna and her team. 

“These are people who are happy to just have a good conversation, but it takes some skill to make a connection with them,” she explains.

Today, Neelan asks Alex to spend time with Colin, who is resting in his room. Colin, like so many people at Embracia, has had a rich life experience and lots of stories to tell. The walls of Colin’s room are covered with photos from his work life and awards he received over the 22 years he spent as a warder in Pentridge Prison. Colin had seen it all, the violence, the riots, the deaths and the experience had left him with traumatic depression. All this is a world away from the tranquil and quiet life he now has at Embracia.

The conversation moves easily from one topic to another, as both Colin and Alex talk about the steep rise in the cost of living and the terrible effect it’s having on ordinary lives. Colin has been watching the news and is troubled by the Israeli and Palestinian war. This is an opportunity for Alex to share his informed perspective as he has just come from a classroom discussion on this topic. I marvel at this young volunteer’s emotional intelligence. He has an instinct for when to speak and when to give Colin the space to gather his thoughts.

“I told my father that if I could, I would volunteer more often,” Alex explains. 

While Anna hopes that Alex may end up as a carer in aged care, Alex has other ideas; he is already focused on a career in law enforcement, but the people skills he has shown at Embracia will stand him in good stead when dealing with any situations that he may encounter.