No hibernation for Bear Cottage volunteers


At Bear Cottage - the only children's hospice in NSW - it was decided that if the kids and their families couldn't leave their homes during the COVID crisis, then Bear Cottage would come to them.

Under normal circumstances, Bear Cottage offers a home-away-from-home for children with life-limiting conditions, providing support, respite and end-of-life care.

It's an uplifting place where families can spend quality time with their children, creating life-long memories, while also providing paediatric palliative care 24 hours a day.

Of course, with COVID restrictions in place, families haven't been able to spend time at the Manly facility. But thankfully, that doesn't mean they've been left isolated.

Bear Cottage has an "army" of 120 volunteers, on top of its staff, and together they've been putting smiles on faces through Zoom catch-ups, care package deliveries, and music, art and cooking therapy classes.

Bear Cottage's registered nurse has been contacting families offering them 'virtual' volunteer support, and many have relished the opportunity to meet volunteers over Zoom.

Whether it's just to chat about their day, have a story read to them, play an online game, or even navigate the intricacies of Google Classroom to support their online learning, there's no underestimating the value of the face-to-face time. 

"We are so lucky to have such a breadth of skills and knowledge within our volunteer cohort from tutors and teachers to ex nurses, counsellors and play therapists," community relations manager Bronwen Simmons tells Peninsula Living. 

"Each and every volunteer can bring something unique to their role, and now more than ever we are benefitting from this."

The staff have been helping volunteers to develop their skills and refresh their learning with a series of education Zoom sessions covering topics such as accidental counselling, dealing with grief and loss, and keeping and maintaining boundaries.

Understanding that the pressure on the parents is even greater at this time, volunteers equipped with care packages full of treats and activities have been dropping by homes to the delight of Bear Cottage families.

One Bear Cottage mum relived the moment one of the pink t-shirt clad volunteers arrived in their driveway.

"I just wanted to thank everyone at Bear Cottage for the delivery. It was so very thoughtful and I'm sure the neighbour heard us squealing with excitement as we unpacked. We were so excited to see a friendly volunteer at our doorstep, we even made him some fresh Anzac biscuits and a drink to keep him going!"

Volunteer manager Rachel Simpson, says the demand for Bear Cottage volunteers during COVID isolation just reinforces the vital role they play in the lives of the children and their families.

"I am tremendously proud of the quick response and eagerness to continue to support Bear Cottage families, demonstrating yet again what a wonderful resource the Bear Cottage volunteers are," she tells Peninsula Living.

"Their ability to show such compassion and selflessness during this difficult time is really humbling.

"It brings home the additional challenges that Bear Cottage parents have in these uncertain times. It reinforced the value of the respite stays at Bear Cottage that many parents benefit from and when that is not possible due to COVID-19, how much more difficult their lives can be."

Children have also been enjoying cooking demonstrations from Bear Cottage's two resident chefs, and completing art therapy activities that have been set out in online instructional videos.

Registered music therapist Annabelle Keevers has even been providing music therapy via Zoom, allowing her "to connect with families on a much more personal level".

"I am essentially being invited into their living rooms, into their private space, which is quite different from running sessions in the garden or sensory room at Bear Cottage," she explains.

"This has meant that I am able to connect with people in their own space and tailor my music to the specific situation they are in."

Joe McDonough

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