21 May 2024

Are you a 'weaver'? Volunteers needed for dementia carer buddy program

| Kellie O'Brien
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Weaver Program Illawarra

A carer and weaver from the Weaver Program at the Illawarra Women’s Health Centre. Photo: Supplied.

Carers are being paired with experienced “weavers” who have walked a similar path in caring for someone with dementia – but more volunteers in the Illawarra are needed.

Run through the Illawarra Women’s Health Centre, the carer-led Weavers Program was started in the Illawarra two years ago and based on the model developed by The Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI) in Western Australia.

Weavers Project manager Sharon Stewart from the Illawarra Women’s Health Centre said weavers, who volunteered their time, were given their name for “weaving through their community”.

“Because the weaver is supporting carers, they weave through the community helping people cope and maintain their own health throughout the journey of caring for someone with dementia,” Sharon said.

She said these compassionate mentors offered invaluable support, companionship, and a listening ear, drawing from their own experiences to guide and uplift others on their caring journey.

Sharon said the right weaver was paired with the right carer and, being carer-led, the carer could then determine what they wanted out of the program.

“Some of my carers would contact each other via text message or phone once a month, some meet every week, and some only call if they need to ask any kind of questions,” she said.

“I’ve had some that were caring for their parents and so had to sell the home and then put their loved one into care, and a weaver facilitated that whole journey.

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“So it just depends on what they’re up to and what kind of emotional challenges are coming up.”

Sharon also facilitates a carer group and a weavers group, which provides networking and, for the weavers, allows the sharing of ideas and training.

“Training is about them reminiscing on their own journey,” she said.

“It’s with the other weavers, so it’s often quite therapeutic for them as well to go back over what they have done and realise that it’s a pretty significant journey they have been through and how much it matters and how much it will make a difference to someone else.

“The lived experience is invaluable.”

She said the volunteer role was particularly ideal for those looking to fill a void in their life after looking after a loved one with dementia who may have then gone into care and no longer required the same level of attention.

She said the program was like a buddy system.

“It’s just someone you can reflect with and someone you can ask questions of,” she said.

“Sometimes they might go out together and have a coffee and it might not be about the caring, it might be just about the social side.

“It’s to reduce the isolation as well. No good caring happens alone.”

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She said when a crisis then arose or the carer was faced with behavioural issues, they felt more comfortable reaching out to their weaver.

“If you reach out to your weaver and the weaver has walked down that path, they can often give suggestions on what they did,” she said.

Sharon said there was strong demand for the service, with a lot of carers requiring help.

“It’s a bit trickier getting weavers because it is a voluntary role, so it means people are donating their time,” she said.

“However, it’s not a whole lot of work.

“The main focus is to try and give the carer strategies to cope and maintain their own health through the journey.

“Whether that’s getting away with the weaver and having a coffee or just going to a movie together.”

The Weaver Program is free and doesn’t require any set commitment from the carer.

“Whatever you need to get out of the program, that’s what you get,” she said.

The Weavers Program is co-funded by Carer Gateway, The Benevolent Society, and Calderwood Communities. In the Illawarra, the program is also run through Multicultural Communities Council of Illawarra.

To learn more, visit the website or phone 4255 6800.

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