Learning > Inspiration

Building circles of friendship

Volunteers at a new social club for oldies are getting as much from the gatherings as the senior citizens

Nicholas Yong


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With a greeting on her lips and a smile on her face, she moved easily among the chatting senior citizens - some with maids in tow - who had turned up for the monthly gathering of their Senior Friendship Circle.


As she served them breakfast at the void deck of Block 410 in Pandan Gardens, Madam Susan Lee stopped occasionally to ask about one person's health, or to exchange a snippet of neighbourhood news or joke with another.


The 59-year-old is one of the 70 or so people who help out at these morning get-togethers organised by Ayer Rajah Residents' Committees (RCs), to make it easier for the community's old to meet and get to know each other.


"It's a very happy atmosphere," said the former caterer, who, before she went into doing community work, used to give discounts to charitable organisations which ordered her pastries.


The other volunteers, whose ages range from the 40s to the 60s, include housewives, accountants, and even military personnel. Several are retirees themselves, who qualify for this club for those 60 years and older.


They chat with the old folk, play board games with them, and join in singsongs and other activities. A couple have given cooking demonstrations. One provides free haircuts on the spot.


Familiar faces
"We know many of these elderly residents, as this is an old kampong. We've all lived in the area for decades. To me, they're my neighbours," said Madam Lee of the 70 or so people at the occasion.


Spending a Sunday morning at the breakfast club is her latest worthy cause for giving her time and services. The mother of two has been active in the Cat Welfare Society and lent an occasional hand at her church for more than a decade. She went into grassroots work about two years ago.


Indeed, volunteering is a family affair in her household. Her 35-year-old daughter has travelled with her church to teach in poorer communities. Her 29-year-old son and her husband, help animal welfare groups regularly.


Asked why she does it, she said: "It's hard to explain. It makes me happy when I see others happy."


Similar sentiments prompt retiree and mother of three, Madam Lily Lek, to off er her services at the Block 410 gatherings. 


She applies her experience from her time running a canteen in a factory to the menu, where the dishes specifically have less salt and sugar.


"I love to help," said the 62-yearold, who got involved at RC events after retiring, partly in a bid to keep active. "Here, I have also been learning a lot from the elderly about diet and exercise." 


The Senior Friendship Circle, launched in August, is the brainchild of Ms Foo Mee Har, the Adviser to Ayer Rajah Grassroots Organisations. Ms Foo brought together a strong team of volunteers, grassroots leaders and sponsors to support the setting up and management of weekly activities for this seniors' club.


Explaining the reasons for the programme, she said: "Such active community engagement makes a big difference to the seniors' quality of life, particularly when they know that there are always friends around to help. No one should ever feel alone or isolated."


So far, four Circles have been set up.


A complimentary breakfast, which changes each time, is laid planned. 


The gatherings are held at four different locations, so seniors do not have to walk more than a few blocks to attend one.


Currently, only residents in HDB estates are involved, but there are plans to have groups for those in private housing estates.


Also in the pipeline - a free lifelong membership card, that gives the holder discounts at shops within Ayer Rajah.


Mr Michael Chong, chairman of the Ayer Rajah Zone 1 RC which hosts the Block 410 sessions, said of the programme: "We want to provide a reason for them to get out of their home and engage with others. We're also creating social networks among them, so they can look out for each other."


In the process, his group hopes to identify those who may need help, so assistance can be provided.


"However," said Mr Chong "our number one goal is to make sure the elderly folk who come down have a good time."


Residents who are interested in volunteering can either register at the Ayer Rajah CC (Tel: 6560 9983) or with their RCs, or simply turn up at the venue at 7 am on the day itself.


Sunday gatherings
The get-togethers are at:
• The roof garden of Block 23 in Tehan Gardens Road

(1st Sunday)
• Block 410 in Pandan Gardens
(2nd Sunday)
• Block 30 Tehan Gardens
(3rd Sunday)
• Block 25 in Tehan Gardens Road
(4th Sunday)


Residents who are identified 60 years old and above are invited to join the Senior Friendship Circle by the staff and volunteers from the Ayer Rajah Grassroots Organisations during house visits. Senior citizens can also sign up with their respective RCs.


Credit: BRIDGE, a publication by South West CDC

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