Volunteer Special: A win-win situation

By Suzanne McKenzie | Posted: Wednesday December 11, 2019

When early-childhood teacher Gayle Thornton began volunteering with *Enliven SupportLink Wakatipu three years ago, she had no idea it would lead to an about-turn career change which would see her working with people from the opposite end of the age spectrum.

“Volunteering for SupportLink has given me the chance to see the world through others’ eyes.”

Gayle says she signed up with Enliven SupportLink - a free community service which matches volunteers with older people in the community needing some companionship or support - because she wanted to do something “meaningful”, alongside her home duties, as she settled the family into Queenstown.

“As it turns out, that’s a good part of why Elaine, the Wakatipu SupportLink Coordinator, matched me with Don. He and his wife were also newbies to the district and had no family down here.”

Gayle said Don’s loneliness and relative social isolation was compounded by some hearing loss, progressing physical frailty - meaning he couldn’t drive anymore - and the fact that his wife was out of the house a lot as she strived to get her new business up and running.

“Things didn’t get off to the speediest of starts,” recalls Gayle.

“While SupportLink gave great training and support, I’d had no previous experience with older people and I almost got the impression, during our early fortnightly outings, that Don could take it or leave it!”

Gayle says that all changed one particularly hot Lakes District day, when she declared her wish to partake of a certain cold beverage, rather than their usual coffee and cake.

“Well, I think he may have been a bit surprised but he was super quick to agree to that one,’ says Gayle, “And the rest, as they say, is history”.

Indeed, not only do the two now thoroughly enjoy a valued and growing friendship, but Gayle credits the newfound skillset, experience and drive she acquired with SupportLink, as having landed her a “very fulfilling” new job with Alzheimer’s Otago.

“Who would have believed I’d be in such a win-win situation by helping out our seniors citz?!” asks Gayle.

They would, no doubt.

Afterall, they are living proof that, just like Gayle and Don’s relationship, ‘good things take time.’

* The Enliven SupportLink Wakatipu service is proudly supported by Community Trust South and Central Lakes Trust.

Without this support, Presbyterian Support Southland Enliven would not be able to deliver this life-changing community programmes.