Donncha lines out to launch visitor service for elderly

IRELAND rugby star Donncha O’Callaghan kissed his granny yesterday to help launch a new volunteer visitor service for elderly people.

The towering second row forward said he was delighted to launch the Age Link initiative in the Cork suburb of Mahon, where his grandmother, Joan Roche lives.

“It’s great to give something back to my nan after how much she’s given to me over time,” Donncha said.

“Anytime I call down to my nan and have a chat, I come away with more out of it than she does — great stories about when they were growing up, the history of our country — the really important things you can read in books but it isn’t until you hear first-hand from people that were there and lived it out that you realise how important it is.

“They are the people that built our country and it’s important that we look after them, and with initiatives like this, we definitely will.”

Ms Roche, who described Donncha as “her golden boy”, is one of 11 elderly residents in the area visited by an Age Link volunteer once a week.

The service, the first of its kind in the south, is designed to combat loneliness.

The volunteers, drawn from the local area, spend about an hour in the elderly residents’ home chatting about activities and events locally that could benefit the older person.

But the volunteers have been specially trained to identify people who may need further help.

They can then relay that information to the project co-ordinator, Lynda Wakefield, who liaises with public health nurses, the home help service, and organisations like Meals on Wheels.

The service has been established by Mahon CDP (Community Development Project) which was set up in 1992 to help tackle disadvantage, discrimination and exclusion.

In 2005, the group identified a need for a visiting service in the area. Funding was received from the Dormant Accounts scheme and Ms Wakefield was recruited to develop the service.

Some 20 volunteers have completed a comprehensive HSE-supported training programme, which included Garda vetting and reference checks.

Sixteen older people have benefited from the service to date, with 11 people currently receiving weekly visits.

Mahon CDP’s Viv Sadds said the visitation initiative works because the service is “very personal and very localised”.

But a Government ordered review, which will result in this and other community development projects around the country, amalgamated under city partnership groups by December, could put the project at risk.

Mr Sadds said Mahon CDP will continue to press politicians to prevent the move.

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