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'I was all alone in the house, no wife, no kids - when my dog died it was the last thing'

ALONE is looking for volunteers for its befriending service.

I became very isolated. It got to the stage that if I went to the shop I could hardly get from the car to the shop- I was really going in the wrong direction.

Leo Kelly Source: Roisin Furlong via Limelight Communicationa

LEO KELLY IS 70 and has lived alone for almost 15 years. He described retirement at the age of 63 as “a culture shock”, saying that suddenly you find yourself without daily contact with others.

My marriage broke down so all of a sudden it was no wife, no kids, no nothing. Just me in an empty house with my dog Jessie.

He explained how at first he would go out some evenings “for either a meal, movie or a trip to a concert or the odd play.

“At first this was fine but it doesn’t take long to begin to feel like an intruder at events on your own.

Intervals can seem very long sitting on your own having a coffee as all around you people are discussing the play or show.

“The result is that after sometime you begin to stop these excursions into the world built for couples.”

Leo described how isolation seeped in after the death of some friends and with his sons travelling and “getting on with life”.

When his dog Jessie died, he said, “It was the last thing. I had no reason to go out for my exercise anymore.”

Leo’s health deteriorated and it was through his doctor that he was put in contact with ALONE.

“I knew nothing about the charity, it just wasn’t on my radar.”

He now says that, “Since ALONE made contact with me – my confidence is coming back.

“Eamon has been coming every Monday at 11 o’clock and if he can’t make it – he’ll come out on the Tuesday or the Wednesday- he won’t miss a week.

He’s coming now over a year and initially I’d go shopping with him. It has built my confidence up so much, I’m not scared to go out and talk to people anymore.

Speaking about Eamon, Leo said, “He’s a retired bus driver and he wanted to give back, he’s a good man who gives of his time.

“We’ve been in every coffee shop in a 10 mile radius of Balbriggan.

There is some purpose in the week. Something to look forward to instead of an aimless and pointless existence.

Volunteering

ALONE has 180 volunteers and says it simply could not do its work without them.

Erin Quinn is one of those volunteers.

“I first got involved when my father was sick back in Canada – the thing that was most important to him was having me and my sister around as he was dying.

So I just thought, there are so many people out there who don’t have that support and I thought that was very sad.

Erin has been visiting Ann for over a year. Speaking about the visits, she said, “We just have a lovely time together.

She’s so sweet, she’s always saying, ‘I don’t know what I’d do without you, you’re like a daughter’.

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done and ALONE give you so much support, you’re so well trained and you’ve got a mentor – there’s so many people you can call if you need guidance at all.

“People often say ‘Oh you’re so good to do this’ but I just think – if they only knew how much I get out of it. It’s been an amazing experience for me.

“Who can’t put an hour of Facebook time looking at cat videos aside – to actually make a difference in somebody’s life.”

How to get involved 

Deirdre Madden is in charge of the volunteer coordination at ALONE, she told TheJournal.ie that there’s a growing interest among people wanting to volunteer. She described this as really positive but needed – as demand is on the increase.

“Befriending referrals have increased three fold since 2012.

The feedback we’re getting is that people really want to give back. They kind of got caught up in the Celtic Tiger and now they want to do something outside of the 9-5 to help people.

Deirdre explained that, “If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer the first thing to do is e-mail us to express an interest. We’ll then send you out a role description of the position and if you’re still interested – we advise you come to an information evening.”

shutterstock_85266823 Source: elderly woman with young woman via Shutterstock

The next information evening is Wednesday, September 10 at the Central Hotel on Exchequer Street, Dublin.

ALONE had record numbers at the last evening in January with 80 people attending, compared to 30 in 2009. That’s an increase of 70% in 5 years.

Deirdre said: “You will get an application pack at the evening and when you send back the forms (including a Garda vetting) there would be an interview. If you’re successful at this stage you would be invited to start training.

“The training consists of four core modules over a four week period. Each module takes approximately 2-2.5 hours.”

For more information on becoming a volunteer with ALONE, check out alone.ie or email enquiries@alone.ie.

The charity is also looking for volunteer mentors and school talk volunteers. You can see the role descriptions here.

ALONE was set up by Dublin firefighter, Willie Birmingham, in 1977 after he witnessed the isolation and appalling living standards of the elderly.

ALONE stands for A Little Offering Never Ends.

Read: Could you be the first point of contact for a child who wants to talk?>

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