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Rest home opens doors for teen

Sophie Richardson

Fourteen-year-old Sacred Heart College student, Sophie Richardson, would never have thought that spending time with her grandad at Elmwood House Rest Home and Hospital would have such an impact on her.

Sophie has been a regular visitor to Elmwood House, in Nelson Crescent, Napier since her grandfather, Terry Taylor, became a resident there in 2019. Visiting him multiple times a week with her family, Sophie struck up a unique rapport with the other residents, often having colourful conversations with them and delighting them with her dance performances.

“Lots of the residents would start a conversation with me and I was happy to chat to them,” Sophie says. “I was interested to hear how their day had been and how they were feeling.”

Sadly, Sophie’s grandad passed away in September 2020, which meant her visits to Elmwood House stopped. Suddenly, Sophie found herself missing her new-found friends she had made over the 18-months she had been visiting, so, with the help of her mum, Ngaia, and Elmwood House staff, she became the company’s youngest and only volunteer at the time.

“I went back in the school holidays to help staff with the activities for residents. I did art with them, painted their fingernails and did magic shows – whatever would make them laugh. Making them happy makes me happy. I like finding out about their life before they came to Elmwood House and I have met a lot of the residents’ family members too.”

Sophie’s mum, Ngaia Richardson, adds “She went off to volunteer one day with the hula hoop and I said, ‘What are you doing with that?’ and she replied, ‘I’ve got a great idea to entertain the residents today’.”

Recognising her can-do attitude, compassion and empathy, Elmwood House management offered Sophie a paid position as a Support Assistant. Sophie’s position entails heating and dishing meals for residents (39 in total), assisting the hospital residents with their meals as well as cleaning the dishes and maintaining the tidiness of the kitchen. Sophie subsequently went from being their youngest volunteer to their youngest employee.

“Sophie is a lovely, vibrant young girl who has settled in well into the workplace,” Elmwood House Administrator, Mel Phillips, says.

“I think the residents relate well to her as she would be of a similar age to their grandchildren, and they love having visits from the younger generation. She is a happy go lucky girl and always keen to help where she can. She is well-liked by staff and residents alike.”

Sophie admits that when she first visited Elmwood House it was scary entering into the unknown and seeing her grandad out of his usual home environment. However, the whole experience has broadened her mind and opened doors to opportunities she would never have been exposed to otherwise.

“If grandad didn’t have dementia I wouldn’t have known what it was. I’ve learned a lot about the illness and about caring for others. It has also helped me with my career path – I want to become a registered nurse and return to working in rest homes.”

Asked what her grandad would think about continuing her connection with Elmwood House, Sophie says “I think he would be proud. He always said I could make anyone laugh!”

31 March 2021

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