Bringing Corporate Volunteers into the Aged Care Space
11 April 2017 at 11:08 am
A corporate volunteer week by a major aged care provider has tried to dispel the “bad rap” the sector is perceived as having and give company executives a chance to see firsthand the positive impact the services can have on its residents.
Not-for-profit aged care provider, Royal Freemasons’ Benevolent Institution (RFBI), has invited employees from some of Australia’s leading companies to participate in its inaugural corporate volunteer week – a concept formulated by its CEO Frank Price.
“I think the aged care industry has copped a bad rap in the press inappropriately and I think that may be a contributor to why corporate volunteering is perhaps overlooked in aged care facilities. I feel that it is not as emotional as volunteering with children for example,” Price told Pro Bono News.
He said the initiative was designed to give corporate partners an opportunity to experience residential aged care “the RFBI way”, with more than 30 people from the business community spending a day with residents and participating in village activities.
“Our passion is to provide quality care and services that have a positive impact on people’s lives and our inaugural corporate volunteer week was our way of allowing our business partners, who work with us every day, to experience first-hand what we do,” he said.
“I felt in dealing with our large corporate suppliers they saw us as a business and at the end of the day we are a business, but not just any old business. We are in the business of looking after the vulnerable… I didn’t think they appreciated that so I wanted to create a link between the business relationship and the reason why RFBI exists.
“I sampled it with a couple of larger suppliers and they indicated that they would be interested in being involved so I put it out there to the corporate suppliers, not the regional or local suppliers, but the large corporates and got almost a 100 per cent positive response. They all said: ‘Yes, we’ll do it’.
“They were involved with meal times, with assisting people with their meals. They were involved in basically spending quality time with our residents. They like to talk to someone, reminisce, or know what’s happening outside of the village and they were keen to talk about what had happened in their life outside the village and that was a great opportunity for them to do that with people who were genuinely interested.
“We had Google Maps being used to retrace where someone was born or raised and see what it was like then and now. So we used technology in that regards. We had a social aspect where they did arts and crafts and our volunteers were in there sitting alongside and competing. They played games. It was all about fun and lightheartedness. It was like a group of people meeting not necessarily in an aged care facility.”
He said however, there were a number of challenges to work through before getting the program up and running.
“Well police checks were the first one. We had to ensure that all of our volunteers were perfectly covered. Having said that, at no stage were volunteers at any time on their own with residents but we had to make sure that we had the police checks in place.
“Secondly we didn’t want to have too many people at the same time in one of the villages because it would dilute the impact we felt and also making sure that as many villages as possible were covered.
“In this case I personally had a good relationship with all those volunteers so we made it clear from the outset that this was not about painting walls or mowing lawns or doing gardening. We have maintenance crews and lawn mowing crews so we don’t need that. This was about spending time with our residents and you had to be prepared to do that and fortunately we didn’t have 300 nominate [themselves to volunteer]. The biggest cohort we had at any one time was seven.”
Price said the responses from the groups was very positive.
“Most were senior managers from major corporates, from Suncorp for example and our insurance brokers Warren Saunders – primarily large organisations. It’s part of their corporate responsibility to volunteer,” he said.
“What we are planning to do is have a structured program because at the moment it is not as structured as I’d like, and also having somebody employed to attend to it as their primary responsibility. And the next stage is to introduce it to the local suppliers and see how that progresses.”
Price said the organisation was currently looking to appoint an RFBI ambassador and part of that role would be to assist in the coordination of these corporate volunteers.
“Being a masonic-based organisation we have got masonic lodges based in every town we are [located] in. So the next phase is to go and meet with the lodges and assist them to volunteer with x-number of members on a weekly or monthly basis – whatever works for them. And then we will have this wonderful pool of new faces coming into a structured program,” he said.
The RFBI was founded in 1880 “to assist the poor and needy”. Currently, the not-for-profit organisation owns and operates 20 self-care villages (comprising 903 units),19 low care hostels (with a total of 1053 beds), four high care nursing homes (comprising 148 beds) and six community aged care programs (comprising 186 funded places), throughout NSW and the ACT.
In total the RFBI cares for more than 2,200 people.