By Michael Doran
Eight young volunteers living with a disability have been recognised in the Victorian Premier’s Volunteer Champions Awards.
While in the program, the team would shop, prepare, cook and serve a delicious weekly lunch for older Yarra Ranges residents.
Ben, Terrie, Sarah, Dominique and Josh represented the group at an awards ceremony at Government House on Sunday 9 September, with Briony, Kaisha and Chelsea absent.
Victorian Governor Linda Dessau presented them with the Teamwork Award, then it was into the garden for refreshments, pictures and socialising with the other winners.
“It was a really special day,” Jessica DiPaola, from program organiser Interchange Outer East, said.
“We were the only disability group, so it was just about the amazing voluntary contribution the group has made to the elderly citizens of the Yarra Valley.”
The lunches came about when some of the young people heard the older residents were eating packaged meals at a day program and decided to do something better.
They came up with the idea to cook lunch and hang out with the seniors, and that has blossomed into genuine friendships, with everyone looking forward to their weekly gatherings.
Some of the older group have an Italian heritage so pasta is often on the menu, a dish the volunteers long ago mastered.
After the plates are cleared away and washed, they play games, share stories and laugh at each other’s jokes.
The group that won the award has moved on to other pursuits so a new team is in action.
On the day of the Mail’s visit, Ms DiPaola had Steph, Simon, Dan and April hard at work in the kitchen and waiting on their guests.
“The volunteers are totally reliable, always organised and it allows us to concentrate on providing a fun program for the senior citizens,” Yarra Ranges Social Support’s Terri Spencer said.
“We know a healthy meal will be ready on time and it is something our people really look forward to each week.”
While the meal is important, it is really a vehicle for the infectious energy and joy the young volunteers bring into these seniors’ lives.
The young people have gained confidence in their ability to reach out and help others, and by their actions have broken down some of the stereotypes surrounding disability.
Their genuine care makes the older people feel very special and looked after.
The elderly group goes by the name the Ripe Cherries, from a shared heritage of cherry farming in the Wandin area.
“We have a few vacancies in the group so if anyone wants to join us please contact the Yarra Ranges Council for information,” Ms Spencer said.