Community coordinator Jade Cook is passionate about making residents feel at home, she tells Sandy Cheu.

Jade Cook, a community coordinator with Victorian aged care provider Benetas, used to be determined to become a doctor. But after volunteering at the aged care facility her grandmother was living in, she felt drawn to work in the sector.

Cook joined Benetas in 2008 as a lifestyle assistant. Later that year, she took on the role of community coordinator, which involves developing the community program for residents.

She works at Benetas Colton Close, a 150-bed facility in Glenroy, a suburb to the north of Melbourne’s central business district. Cook’s duties include finding ways to help residents do the things they want to do, such as getting out of the facility.

“I support residents who want to go out to do so. And for residents who can no longer do that, I work to bring the community to them,” Cook  tells Australian Ageing Agenda.

Jade Cook

Her role is focused on making residents feel  at home, Cook says. “It goes well beyond the person’s clinical needs, but looks at their social, emotional, spiritual and intellectual needs as well.”

Cook says her typical day at work starts at eight o’clock in the morning with a walkthrough of the home to check how residents are doing.

All residents get a plan at the start of the month telling them what activities are running and when.

“I check on what they’d like to partake in and what other ideas they might have,” Cook says. “We have the usual exercise and music sessions, outings to the cinema and bingo groups.”

Cook is also working on an intergenerational program with the nearby Oak Park Primary School. This involves a group of 60 children aged five and six who are partnered with a resident that they visit each week.

“I’m also preparing for a visit to the chocolate factory,” says Cook, who explains she is motivated to work in the sector because of the happiness that the activities can bring residents.

“I love to see people smile. When I see their happiness, it makes me feel like I’ve achieved something for the day. I also get to work with residents who have the greatest spark,” she says.

“I love that there’s always something new to explore and bring to life.”

She says a big challenge when she started working in aged care was dealing with the death of residents she looked after. “As I’ve gotten older and worked in the sector for many years, I’ve managed to work through this.”

Growing up, Cook spent a lot of time with her grandparents. And when her grandmother, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, moved into residential aged care, Cook spent a lot of her weekends visiting her there.

She started volunteering at the facility when she was 15, working closely with the lifestyle team and  pending most of her time in the dementia unit.

It was while visiting her grandmother and volunteering at the facility that Cook realised the difference aged care work could make.

“I became very aware of how incredibly important personalised and genuine care is for older people requiring support in a residential home,” Cook says. “After school I enrolled in a biomedical science degree, which was quite impersonal and clinical. It was only then that I realised how valuable and rewarding a career in aged care would be,” Cook says.

Deciding to withdraw from the degree to pursue aged care work was not taken lightly, says Cook “but it felt completely right” and “has been such a natural transition for me.”

She hasn’t looked back.

“As a community coordinator, I’m involved personally in so many people’s lives, learning about what makes them tick and ensuring that residents create a real home with us. I’ve still got a big list of what I want to do in this role. And I have to say, it never gets dull,” she says.

“If we can support residents to build their quality of life and be cared for at all stages, then that’s an important role that we can play.”

Cook says her favourite part of being in the sector is being able to give back to the community.

“No matter what our care needs are, no matter what our physical or cognitive position is, it’s important that each of us are cared for with dignity and are respected as individuals. It’s wonderful to be a part of doing just that.”

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