Last week I had the pleasure of tagging along with the staff from Featherdale Wildlife Park to see their community outreach program in action. I had followed along on their Facebook page, seeing photos of their visits to nursing homes with cute and cuddly animals and I wanted in. The joy on the faces of the residents, who mostly cannot access the community, sums up why we should all work towards access and inclusion for everyone, no matter their age.
I used to visit nursing homes as part of a school program (way back when!) so I feel quite comfortable chatting to older people and being in that environment. Still, I had no idea what to expect.
I met keeper Courtney and Max from Featherdale at the nursing home. Courtney had the star of the day with her, Lola a 10-month-old wombat. Inside we found a group of residents eagerly anticipating the arrival of Lola. It was so gorgeous watching the faces of the residents light up, some moving forward in their seats awaiting their turn to pat the very relaxed Lola. I’d like to add at this point that Lola has the life. She’s around 5kgs and was carried around by Courtney the whole visit, dozing on and off and lapping up the attention of her adoring audience. Lola has certainly fallen on her paws after losing her Mum and being rescued. Courtney clearly adores her charge.
No-one seemed to want to miss out on chatting with Courtney and patting Lola. One lady entered the room on her walking frame at a considerable pace and with great determination. She brightly chatted to Courtney and clearly enjoyed interacting with Lola. The male residents were equally enthusiastic with one loudly saying, “Wow!” as he spotted Lola.
My favourite moment of the day was when I saw one lady’s reaction to Lola and her clear desire for the moment not to end. She nuzzled her face into Lola and touched Courtney’s face with such love and delight. It was at that point I felt my eyes start to prickle. It was the most touching thing I’ve seen in a long time and I was a goner. When Courtney moved on to another resident I looked over and the lady had the biggest grin on her face. I walked over to her and she grabbed my two arms with her hands. She was so delighted and clearly wanted to share it with me.
Featherdale sometimes take a koala to the homes and Leo (pictured above) looks like a pro too. Keeping nursing home residents interested and engaged must be a challenge for staff. I think the Featherdale program is a wonderful way of bringing brightness and life into their lives. Lola managed to get around to all the residents who were keen to meet her and I know she took a lot of joy with her.
Thanks to the staff at Featherdale for allowing me to tag along last week. I left the nursing home with a big smile, a full heart and smudged mascara. A sure sign of a great day!
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