9 August 2019

A Woden Hero needs your support to help local seniors live their best life

| Wendy Johnson
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Sandy Van Der Toorn, social group coordinator, Woden Community Service, is up for a Westfield Local Heroes award. Photos: Supplied.

Sandy Van Der Toorn, social group coordinator, Woden Community Service, is up for a Westfield Local Heroes award. Photos: Supplied.

Selfless. Dedicated. Kind.

These three words capture the very essence of Sandra (Sandy) Van Der Toorn, social group coordinator for Woden Community Service.

In Sandy’s case she’s as busy as a bumble bee keeping seniors 65 plus–still living in the community–entertained and leading more fulfilling lives.

For seven years, Sandy has been pulling together an inspiring entertainment program for the Woden Community Service that seniors can tap into, with something for everyone. Singing. Dancing. Lunches out. Special tours. Painting classes. Walking groups and more.

The oldest member of the group is 98 (he’s still dancing) and Sandy says the group at one point had a 100-year-old who attended a few events a year.

Sandy’s passion for what she does is palpable.

“I’ve been working in aged care for most of my life, including for many years in facilities,” says Sandy. “I realised over time that people need much more than just a shower and food. They need to have interests and be entertained.

“It can be a long day without something to do. I decided to work in an area where I can get people moving and learning new things.”

For her work, Sandy has been nominated for the “Westfield Local Heroes” and is one of the six finalists for 2019.

Westfield Local Heroes are people nominated and voted by their communities for their special work. Winners are awarded a $10,000 grant for their affiliated organisation (details on voting for Sandy are below).

“Every drop in the bank helps with what we do,” says Sandy. “If we win the money, the Woden Community Service will use it to provide more support to marginalised group members, including special outings, meals or even a short break away from home.”

Sandy with Bunny at a senior’s Christmas Party.

The entertainment program keeps seniors as busy as they want to be.

Weekly activities include a regular breakfast group on Mondays, a walking group Tuesdays, a movie group Wednesdays, grocery shopping tour Thursdays, and so on.

Monthly activities include gallery tours, discovery tours, including to Young, Cooma and the coast. There’s a ladies group and a men’s group and groups built around common interests like the one for former Snowy Hydro Project Workers.

The group also runs ‘Aldi tours’ but not just to Aldi locations in Canberra.

“We may head to places like Goulburn to make a day of it,” says Sandy. “We have lunch and group members tour the town, head to op shops to scout for deals on books and other items, shop at Aldi and then we head home.”

Sandy herself heads home fulfilled every day, seeing seniors blossom through new friendships, the opportunity to love life and the chance to keep mobile and improve their fitness.

“We’ve had people who have been terribly isolated and very lonely all day,” says Sandy. “Perhaps they don’t have any family here or they’ve lost a loved one and don’t know what to do. We offer a way for them to get out and enjoy life.”

One group member was stuck at home with nothing to do after his wife passed away. “We asked him to come and try out the men’s group to see if he liked it. It worked out very well and now he attends practically all activities,” says Sandy.

“We have him up dancing, clapping, stomping and laughing. It’s wonderful to see.”

Sandy with Timothy tiptoeing through the tulips.

Sandy is supported by a team of volunteers who help roll out the program. That includes volunteers who help seniors enjoy their activity and drivers who pick up the seniors at their homes and drop them off.

“I couldn’t do all of this without our wonderful volunteers,” says Sandy.

Also of great support are the venues that welcome the seniors, including the Harmonie German Club, Erindale Vikings and the Hellenic Club, who often provide special discounts for the seniors for their lunch.

“They’re so good to us,” says Sandy.

Sandy doesn’t call what she does a “job” but rather “work that rewards her every day”.

“Sometimes it’s challenging to get people to join and come out of their shell, but we keep working at it because we know they’re missing out and we know their quality of life will improve when they join in.”

Vote for Sandra today in the Woden Local Heroes competition. Voting closes 12 August.

Sandy (left) with a group of seniors from the Snowy Hydro Project who meet regularly.

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