Passing the baton

Aged Concern coordinator Helen North will retire tomorrow and Marilyn McLeod will be taking on the position
Aged Concern coordinator Helen North will retire tomorrow and Marilyn McLeod will be taking on the position

When people think "Age Concern" in Marlborough they think of Helen North.

It leaves a tall pedestal to climb for Marilyn McKay, who has become the the new Age Concern community support worker following Helen's departure this week.

After seven years on the job, the former nurse says it is time to "begin a new journey".

"I'm leaving now because it's time for me to go.

"There are seasons for living and it's time for me to have a break.

"This is rewarding work, but it's demanding."

When Helen became the community support worker it was a sole position job. Since then the Marlborough Age Concern council has employed Wendy Lefebre as an elder abuse counsellor and Marilyn as a Senior Chef class co-ordinator.

The popular cooking classes will be held again but a focus next year will be community seminars, keeping people informed and equipped to deal with different issues, Marilyn says.

Age Concern has a holistic approach, Helen says.

"It's meeting older persons' physical, mental and spiritual needs."

She turned 65 in October so has officially joined the senior citizen ranks.

Seven years at Age Concern, and her earlier nursing work in rest homes give her a clear understanding of people's needs in retirement.

Key issues are a need to be valued and feeling like they belong, she says.

"What drives [Age Concern] is a passion for the respectful treatment and the honouring and valuing of older people in our community.

"That's the driving force and the bar has been raised."

The concept of age-friendly cities, where public structures and services meet older people's varying needs and capacities is catching on, she says.

In any community, though, individual families can include their grandparents and great-grandparents in social gatherings and outings and decision-making.

"We need to provide more care within the family, within the community and not just put them to one side," Helen says.

Instead of being just "mum, dad and the kids", the family unit is strengthened when grandparents' roles are recognised and incorporated.

"Grandchildren need to learn about their story, about their life."

Helen is the mother of two adult children and is looking forward to being an active grandmother to a grandson, aged 14 months.

She will be his caregiver during the summer break when her daughter and son-in-law plan to renovate a rental property they own in Oamaru.

Helen also wants to spend more time with a brother who is unwell. "That's what family is all about," she says.

Today's global economy often forces folk away to work in distant places and many Age Concern clients are without family members living nearby. An Oasis friendship group helps them build and maintain social contact.

"It's always the little things that count between feeling loved and feeling lost," Helen says.

"Age Concern organises trips and outings, gives them a sense of belonging."

The Marlborough Express