WHILE Australia marks National Volunteer Week (May 18 – 24), Jeanette Ayre is certainly among those people worth celebrating.
With a heart as big as the Story Bridge and four volunteer roles to prove it, the Kangaroo Point East Brisbane parishioner has lived on Main Street all of her life.
Born in 1956, around the arrival of a much-loved Monsignor Leo Carlton, her family’s only detour coming home from hospital was a blessing in front of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour at St Joseph’s.
Like most volunteers she has had to think laterally during the COVID-19 crisis, for although classed as a non-essential worker, those who benefit from her outreach simply can’t do without her.
Jeanette’s speciality is music, a ministry she normally shares far and wide – firstly in her parish, but also at two aged care homes and a non-profit community care centre.
These facilities – Mary Crest Retirement Home; Holland Park Aged Care and Footprints in Brisbane – were understandably fearful about the impact self-isolation measures would have on their residents and members.
With an artful pivot, however, Jeanette has taken it all in stride by adapting to simple technology or non-contact encounters.
In the church setting that means she has joined in singing for Sunday morning parish Mass webcasts, whilst in the aged care home it means non-contact visits and no regular hugs or kisses upon arrival.
For Footprints in Brisbane, which works with the elderly, those that experience disability, mental illness, or are at risk of homelessness, she schedules regular calls in place of the group singalongs.
“It was one of the diversional therapists there who first alerted me to the issues the Footprints members were having,” Jeanette said.
“She was talking to me about one man who lives all alone and said, ‘oh, Matthew*, he’s so depressed, he’s not even answering the phone, we’ll have to go over there’.
“And I said, ‘look tell him, if he wants, that we can have a chat over the phone.’
“In the first week I could barely get two words out of him, so I said ‘Matthew, I’ve got a challenge for you and I; we’ve both got to play a song we’ve always wanted to play, and learn it.’
“Now Matthew owns five guitars and can play 3 chords, but in his own wonderful way, when I rang him three or four days later, he said ‘oh, I’ve done half of it’.
“He was so excited to tell me how he could play this song, which was Elvis’ ‘I can’t help falling in love with you’.”
Another pair of Footprint members, the adult brothers John and George* who are both autistic, have also been tuning in enthusiastically to the phone call mini-concerts.
“I knew they were missing our get togethers terribly, so I’d arranged with their brother-in-law for me to ring yesterday at 11am,” she said.
“By the time I called he said they had been sitting at that table waiting for that phone to ring since 9.30am.
“This is going to sound a bit silly but, whether in group settings or on the phone, I always pray just before we start.
“I say ‘Lord, please, just let me say the right thing, let me push the right button,’ and somehow you manage to get through and connect with people.
“I’ve had so many people come up to me afterwards and say ‘I haven’t sung a song in years, and I used to love singing’.
“And then there are those individuals who may be aggressive at home, and yet come forward and say they are in a completely different mood after the music group.
“So that’s my passion and power.
“I just think that to be able to touch someone, to make a little bit of difference is the greatest gift of all.”
Jeanette attributes her own spirit of volunteerism to the way she was raised by her mother.
She’s not alone in that generosity, with the archdiocese able lean on a caring army of around 11,500 volunteers, with more than 10,500 of those parish-based and the balance working within Centacare.
This year’s National Volunteer Week theme is “Changing Communities, Changing Lives.”
While an acknowledgement of the generous contribution of our nation’s volunteers is welcome, Jeanette will continue on without much fuss.
“I can only speak for myself but I’m sure most don’t do it for the recognition, they do it for the great number of needs in our society,” she said.
“People just need to know someone cares.
“Whether it be for those with mental health issues or the lonely, there’s thousands in our community that just need a phone call or to know someone cares.
“If there’s anyone who can do anything, whether it be writing letters for people in hospital or simply talking to someone, then I would encourage them to take that step forward and do it.
“It all helps.”
*Names have been changed to protect privacy