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NEW ISLAND ‘CAN DO’ COMPANIONS IDENTIFY VITAL SOCIAL WEAKNESS: LONELINESS The Covid 19 pandemic restrictions have highlighted areas of vulnerability that were previously hidden ‘under the radar’. One of them is loneliness, particularly in the aged community, and very prevalent on our Bay Islands. It became obvious to two ladies in particular who, fortunately, were in a position to do something about it: Angela Collins, the manager of the Macleay Island Community Centre, and volunteer Leanne Ault. Leanne observed a particular trend early last year when a number of elderly islanders were told they could no longer go to the island pharmacies to get their prescriptions or do shopping at the island supermarkets. This wasn’t necessarily correct, but there was confusion and fear amongst the island elderly. There was another aspect to their fears as well. These important members of our community, and communities everywhere, use the visits for medicine and trips to the shops as a form of important communication which they don’t receive when they are at home 24/7. Some of them are extremely lonely and ache for human contact and interaction. Leanne Ault, aided by a background in the services industry, had noticed these difficulties. She joined up as a volunteer with Bay Islands Community Services Inc (BICSI) on Macleay Island, in January 2020. When the COVID-19 restrictions hit in March, she went to Angela Collins and asked what could be done for the isolated and vulnerable residents on our islands who were unable to access help from other sources. This question led to the establishment of the CAN DO Companion Line as part of the Macleay Island Community Centre structure. This was after establishing legal parameters that allowed Leanne and other volunteers to carry out some necessary functions for the vulnerable. It was about offering support, companionship, social interaction and practical assistance. Thanks to the fear that resulted from the pandemic scares, the fledgling organisation was literally ‘swamped’. Initially, Leanne helped with food and medication deliveries for residents; delivered food parcels and blankets; offered assistance as needed; and even participated in a budgie funeral, for a resident's pet. BICSI provided the food supplies, changed smoke alarms, rehoused the homeless and kept their offices and Centrelink/Medicare self-assist kiosk, open and functioning, with other volunteers who stepped up to help in this unprecedented time of need. The CAN DO Companion Line was such a success that it continues onward; with more volunteers offering to be a part of providing help to the community. It continues to grow and expand in its services and directions, but it does not take away the vital issue of loneliness that is all pervasive, harmful and hidden. Leanne Ault admits that each interaction with the many who now use the service, the biggest element is social interaction. “Many of our elderly residents are starving just to talk to someone. “I never have a short visit. Each time I interact with our clients, it can take an hour or two.” Angela Collins turned Leanne’s request into an organisation because she immediately identified with the underlying problem. “There is no-where in our social services from Government and elsewhere that caters to loneliness. ‘It is an issue that I believe needs to be addressed, and we are doing the best we can in this area via the CAN DO Companion Line. “We find we are filling a role that is currently not provided for.” With this in mind, the organisation is introducing a whole raft of new directions which will involve a weekly Tuesday lunch at the Macleay Island Community Centre for the elderly and others who are in need of some social contact and interaction. Other new directions will include colouring-in and puzzles fun for the elderly, and the possibility of a seniors choir. Angela pointed out that these type of activities can play a vital role in keeping the elderly mind active, and play a positive role in keeping aged minds active; helping to stave off diseases such as alzheimers and dementia. As a result of her efforts, Leanne Ault was recently chosen as a finalist for the Redlands Coast Australia Day 'Local Hero Award. The CAN DO Companion Line now has volunteers on Lamb Island, and they look forward to seeing other volunteers wanting to join who would like to help on Russell and Karragarra. CAN DO Companion Line can be contacted on 0422 465 493 or talk with Angela at the Macleay office on 3409 5613. If you are in need of assistance in some way via the CAN DO Companion Line, then please fill out the form on this page and send it to OR, go to the Friendly Bay Islander website and register your name.

• Angela Collins with Leanne Ault with Leann’s award.