In his message for the first World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, Pope Francis says, “the Lord continues to send angels to console our loneliness and to remind us, ‘I am with you always,’.
And for some residents in the Blacktown local area, they are blessed with angels in the form of volunteers like Sheila Martin.
Sheila has been volunteering for CatholicCare Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains’ Blacktown Neighbourhood Aid and Community Visitors Scheme programs for around four years.
“It was the first thing I did when I retired,” Sheila tells Catholic Outlook. “I found the role advertised in the local paper, and it was something that I was interested in, so I put it in a folder with things I wanted to do after I retire.
“When I did retire, I responded to the ad, and I was able to start right away.”
As part of Blacktown Neighbourhood Aid, Sheila helps three women living in the Blacktown community with their shopping, taking them to medical appointments, or even, simply getting a cup of coffee.
Sheila tells me that her role is to help her clients stay connected with their local community, and that something like taking them to the shopping centre for a coffee can sometimes be a highlight of their week.
“They love the social interaction and the chat,” she says.
Sheila was fortunate to get involved in the Community Visitors Scheme as one of her Blacktown clients had transitioned into a nursing home, but still wanted to catch up and continue their friendship.
“My work certainly keeps me on my toes,” she says. “But my regulars also have made me more calm and have encouraged me to slow down and to be more patient, which does a lot of good for me.”
Sheila explains that over the years, her clients have become “good mates.”
“I love the friendships that I have developed, and I look forward to seeing the ladies every week.
“I become a friend to them, and over time, they have become a kind of surrogate mother to me, as only my immediate family are here in Australia.”
Being an avid history buff, Sheila also enjoys hearing the local history of the Blacktown area from the women who have lived it, as well as their “absolutely fascinating” life stories.
Sheila says she is inspired in her work because she feels she is doing something useful and important for her clients.
“They are so grateful for what you do, and I am glad to help make their life a little easier.
“I feel that my services have developed a personal touch because I have come to know these ladies.
“I want to try and help them in any way that I can.
“I am so glad that I started volunteering here. It is so rewarding.”