SOMETIMES all you need is a cuddle. And at Mater Mothers Hospital in Brisbane, this is where 'cuddle mum' Gwen Grant steps in.
Gwen is just one of the many treasured volunteers at Mater Hospital. She does not think her life is extraordinary but to the thousands of families she has helped over the last 25 years she is nothing short of extraordinary.
The Queenslander is one of the millions of volunteers being celebrated around the world to mark International Volunteer Day on December 5.
"When I first started, I volunteered in the old children's hospital spending the first half of my day in admissions and the second half in the special care unit," she said.
"My role in children's theatre admissions was to care for the families while their children were having surgery, for some people this was the scariest day of their life. I would make them a cup of tea, bring them some food and try my best to distract them or keep the other siblings occupied."
The second half of Gwen's day was spent in the special care uUnit with premature and ill babies and is something she still does to this day and what she loves most.
"Working in the SCU I sort through donated clothing and write thank you notes for people who had made it.
"Every now and again there is a very special moment when you get to cuddle a baby, these are the most wonderful moments and I look forward to them so much," she said.
"When I first came to Mater the Cuddle Mum program had just started after another midwife had seen how successful it was in Canada and implemented it here.
"Cuddling the babies was so special, one afternoon I put on the gown, sat in the arm chair and was able to nurse this baby for hours, it was truly beautiful."
Mater Mother's Hospital senior admin officer Monica Bittenbinder said Gwen constantly amazes her.
"She is nothing short of amazing, everyone in the hospital knows her and we all think she is wonderful. She comes in at the same time each week with a smile on her face and nothing is too much trouble," she said.
Gwen has recently been honoured at the Mater Long Service Awards recognising her 25 years of service to the hospital where she still works two days a week.
"I feel very blessed to have this life, I have always found joy in helping people," she said.
Open door to friends
WHEN a healthcare worker suggested Irene Edgecombe look to volunteering after she was forced to give up work to go on a disability pension, she was hesitant.
"I was very shy, but I decided to give it a go," said the Morphett Vale woman, who started offering her time at Wakefield House in Adelaide's south.
That was 16 years ago, and she hasn't looked back.
"I came here and thought 'I don't know whether I could do this'. But it was like a door opened," she said. "I loved it and I still love it even after all this time."
Irene now volunteers a day a week at the centre's Friendship Club respite program for over-65s. "I love the contact with the people we look after, and the fact you can give something to them and something back to the community."
Run by the City of Onkaparinga, Wakefield House celebrated its 30th anniversary in October.
Irene has seen the centre change over the years to incorporate many more activities - from pottery and choir to computer lessons and ballroom dancing - and better food.
"There's a lot more activity and the centre is fully used now. And the food here... we say it's like eating at a five-star restaurant."
She said many of the centre's clients are very isolated.
"I don't think you realise until you get involved in a place like this, just how many people out there are isolated, even from their families.
"So this is somewhere they can come and feel like they're loved, and it's important for them to be able to come here each week and look forward to it.
"Even for volunteers, it's an outlet and a way of meeting people and contributing back to the community."
Irene's mum Eve Gill now attends Wakefield House twice a week, and Irene has seen a change in her in the three years she's attended.
"At first, she said 'well I don't make friends easily' and now she's saying 'I make friends really easily'! That's the change it makes in people's lives."
'More time to give'
Marie Bodey is a volunteer at Mercy Health's MercyVille in Craigie, Western Australia.
Marie visits residents every Tuesday to spend time chatting and offering pampering manicures. The grandmother, who used to work in the disability sector, said after she retired she felt she still had more to give.
"I look on the residents as part of my family and I love their company. I have got to know them well and really enjoy talking to them all individually," she said.
"Spending time with older people puts a smile on my face too and makes me feel good, plus when I go back home it's lovely to know that I'm leaving the residents feeling happy and special.
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