Six months ago I started with Uniting Neurological Support Services (UNSS) in a pastoral care role. At the time I wondered how it would fit in with my role at MUC, and what challenges I might face. The role at UNSS is quite different, and involves me meeting with and interacting with residents and staff at two locations in Burwood East and Glen Waverley. There are 36 residents who live at UNSS and each has different needs. Let me reflect on some things I have learned.
Listening is more important than speaking. Sometimes in my busy life I hurry to get something done, or want to pre-empt what someone is saying to me. There is no better remedy to this than repeating back what I think a person has said and seeing a look of surprise. They might then type into a keyboard which reads out what they write, and my assumption has been way off. They were inviting me to their birthday celebration in the kitchen, not asking me when my birthday was.
A hard situation is eased by friendship. None of the residents at UNSS chose the difficulties they deal with. Almost all of them were living independent lives before they were impacted by a neurological condition. The support they receive from their families and from other residents is very important for them. The lifestyle staff organise activities which bring residents together to provide entertainment, exercise and games. They put on special events such as Pancake Day and AFL finals parties to help the residents enjoy themselves and engage with each other. They know the residents well, and what will make them laugh, and help them interact with other residents.
Everyone has a story to tell. Since I’ve been at UNSS, I’ve been hearing about the different experiences of the residents. Many enjoyed travelling, and may have been artists or had an interesting job. Some residents have children and may not see them as much as they’d like to. Each person is unique, and has different interests, and the staff help them to access the music and movies they like, as well as to plan activities that they enjoy. The staff work really hard to help residents tick off items on their ‘bucket list’, and I’m always hearing stories about great concerts that they’ve been to, or trips away with family or other residents. Life is hard for these residents, but these enjoyable activities are helpful.
The organisation that UNSS is part of, Uniting is an inspiring one to work for. Although it has a different focus to the Uniting Church, the values of both are closely aligned and Uniting strives to care for the vulnerable in a myriad of ways. It’s great to see how the values of the Uniting Church are lived out in a practical way every day through Uniting.