I have been with Interchange for many years and have had many Support Workers working with and for me, but people like Gail, her passion and commitment to making a real difference in someone’s life, without expecting anything in return, are rare. Gail has been a much-appreciated member of my team for the past 8 years, working with, caring, and supporting people with disability to live a good life.
When I met Frances for the first time, I saw a woman in her sixties who had no trust or hope in the world and people around her anymore but had gathered all her courage and faith to try one more time and turn her life around. She was suffering from bipolar disorder, which Fran refers to as Schizophrenia and her struggles with her mental health had led to multiple suicide attempts and ultimately a self-imposed lockdown in her unit for the past 8 years. Frances wanted to block out everything that was going on outside her own 4 walls. People talking to her made her extremely nervous, her body was tense, and she was not comfortable looking at me. But I also saw a glimmer of hope in her when she slowly started talking about her goals of being able to live a healthier and more organised daily life and participating in activities that she enjoyed within the community.
I knew we only had one chance to get this right. Frances did not have a lot of trust to begin with and letting her down would have impacted her life significantly, destroying all the courage she came up with to even do this step and ask for help. I needed to match her with the right Support Worker for her personality and specific situation. Someone with a sound knowledge of mental health, someone understanding, calm, gentle, and patient who would be able to slowly get Frances out of her shell.
Frances had also mentioned an interest in learning how to cook, so someone who has a passion for cooking and would be willing to share this passion with Frances was needed. And just like that, we found the perfect match for Frances – Interchange Support Worker Gail. Gail checked all the boxes we needed and more. Her calm and gentle but determined nature and the fact that she was in a similar age range to Frances were great. Gail also absolutely loved to cook and spoilt us with her treats more than once and volunteered to make dishes for people in need.
Gail also is not one to give up easy and is motivating and inspiring people to try things without being pushy – always understanding, always gentle but supportive in giving things a go and just try.
Since Frances wasn’t used to any social contacts outside of her family anymore and had been hiding away in her apartment for many years, we had to tread carefully. We started with 3 hours of support per week to ease Frances into things and to give the pair the chance to slowly build up a relationship of trust and understanding. After a few months, we slowly raised support hours and Gail now supports Frances 10 hours per week.
Gail and Frances have been absolutely incredible. The difference from when I met Frances 2 years ago to now is unbelievable. Frances is happy, open, enjoys life and actively seeks to go out and about in the community.
With Gail’s support Frances came up each week with new activities to try and even though some were not quite the right fit, (Frances might have mentioned her experience with Hydrotherapy once or twice to me), Frances did not let this scare her and simply moved on to the next thing. Frances has made many new friends along the way and has had people over at her house to socialise often. She has taken up many new hobbies in the community such as chess and bingo and is comfortable being herself. Gail supports her in a way that makes her feel secure and gives her the independence to try new things and enjoy her life to the fullest. Frances told me once, that Gail made her believe that she could do anything she put her mind to and she finally felt like she belonged again, something she never even thought was possible anymore.
Gail completely embedded our Interchange values when supporting Frances. She acknowledged her individuality by taking time to get to know her, what she liked, disliked, and her dreams for her future. Planning with her around how to make these happen. She empowered Frances by standing alongside her and encouraging her to reach out to a chess tutor and to expand her social connections. This has been so successful that the local library has developed their chess playing into a regular chess club and Frances now has many people she calls friends. Gail has respected Frances by going at her pace and listening when she has needed encouragement or when she wanted quiet time. Through the activities and connections, Gail has ensured that Frances now belongs.
Gail’s support, patience and commitment changed Frances’s life and it brings tears to my eyes that now in the age of 67 Frances can finally be happy, feeling valued and enjoying her life.