When you’re younger, it can feel like you’re going to be working for the rest of your life. The never ending grind of the work week can feel draining. But for aged care residents who may not have worked in years, new roles and responsibilities are providing real purpose. 

At Opal Alfred Cove in Western Australia, residents have embraced a number of volunteer opportunities around the facility. You’ll find them manning the front desk when the Administrative Officer is on lunch break or helping out Maria with her floral workshops. And more recently, fighting for what’s considered the hottest volunteer job in the home, working at the in-home supermarket, appropriately named, not IGA, but OGA (the “O” is for Opal). 

The "OGA" store

The “OGA” store

“It’s been extremely successful,” said Natalia Dyer, Opal Alfred Cove’s General Manager.

“We opened it when COVID happened. People weren’t able to go out to the shops so we thought we’d bring the shops in. It’s still going and we have a lot of residents who work in the shop which is pretty amazing because it gives them meaning.

“They’ve got a lanyard around their necks and they get a discount because they work there, so when they purchase anything, everyone wants to be their friend. 

“One particular guy, his name’s Frank and he’s now the sales manager. He made a comment about now that he has a job, it gives him a reason to get up in the morning. He’s very passionate about it.” 

Every week, members of the Opal lifestyle team will head out to Costco and a wide range of items to sell in the shop. From chocolates and sweets, to lip balm and nail polish, the Alfred Cove OGA has everything you could need. 

“Residents who may not work in the store, have provided feedback as to what they want to see. So for us, that’s really opened up those channels of them telling us what they want to see in their own home,” said Natalia.  

“For example we’ve had requests for socks and had requests of makeup, one particular resident loves Nasi Goreng noodles, so she’s requested that, and now we provide those. We’ve also had a gentleman who’s a real health fanatic, so he came and spoke to us and said that he wanted to see more healthy options in the store, so we made sure to do that as well.” 

The OGA, which has been set up in an old TV room, has plans for expansion. Off the OGA space is a balcony and an outdoor cafe is to be created for residents to stop for a coffee while doing their daily shop. 

Residents shopping in the store

Residents shopping in the store

Already, the OGA has become a meeting place for residents, and not just for people who share the floor, but for others in the home too. 

As with many aged care homes, the different floors are very similar, with little reason for residents to travel between floors. But now, with the OGA pulling in custom from all over the building, there’s more socialising and interaction between residents who may never have met before. 

“You walk into the store and there might be three or four other residents in there shopping and talking to each other about what they’re buying. It’s just such a great initiative and you look back and go ‘why didn’t we think of this before?’,” said Natalia. 

“With this, and also with Maria’s floral workshops, it just brings a different environment into the home. Instead of it just being an aged care home with corridors, it’s now like we’re building a community within the home. So we definitely want to look at other things that you’d see out in the wider community and bring them in.”

And it’s not just the people who work the register getting the benefits. The job of labelling and sorting of the products when they come into the home is being shared too. The OGA has been able to benefit people of all different levels of cognitive ability. 

“We’ve seen that feeling of independence coming back. People are actually having to deal with money again, which gets them thinking. In particular, the people who work in the store, they use an actual cash register so they’re having to do the maths. 

“There’s just so many tasks. We’ve taken the items to our memory care neighborhood, and they do all the packing and labelling of prices. It’s really giving every resident a way of being involved.” 

The benefits of giving the residents of Opal Alfred Cove responsibilities have been immeasurable. From a reinvigorated sense of purpose for those who work there, to the sense of independence and increased socialising for the regulars who check out what’s in stock daily, Alfred Cove residents’ lives have been greatly improved by the introduction of the store. 

“[They] feel like they’re living a purposeful life. [And there are also benefits for] mobility. There’s a gentleman called Roy who comes in with his walker. He used to walk quite a bit, but [stopped] over the last few months and has mainly just stayed in his room. So this helps with residents wellbeing and mobility, which will also help prevent falls,” said Natalia. 

Natalia comments that one resident, Janet, had owned her own business before moving to the home. Now helping with reception or working behind the register during an OGA shift, she really feels like she’s being useful again.

“It really gives residents better well being from a mental and physical point, and also allows them to be part of the team. A lot of cognitive residents who are in a home may feel that we may look at them as if they’re old and there’s no future for them and they can’t do anything. But now they’re actually seeing that that’s untrue. Our team is going to them, and our team is asking them questions ‘how much is that?’, ‘have you got change?’. It’s those sorts of things that makes them definitely feel like they are still as able as anyone else.” 

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