Friendship network desperate for more funding

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It’s crunchtime for the Central Otago Friendship Network, which is celebrating the great work done over 25 years but also asking the community for help to keep its valuable service going.

The network provided much-needed companionship and support for a cross-section of the community, including many vulnerable clients with complex needs, network chairwoman and co-founder Jan Pessione said.

However, it was struggling financially and launching a new fundraising and awareness campaign to keep going, she said.

Those in the network were committed to its work and determined to help it survive.

“We haven’t been successful for 25 years to let it collapse.”

There was considerable research that showed how friendship helped keep a person connected in the community and maintaining mental and physical health, and about 50 often high-needs people were supported by the network in the Alexandra, Clyde and Cromwell districts, network co-ordinator Gay McCaughan said.

Mrs McCaughan is one of two part-time paid co-ordinators with the network. There are also about 35 volunteers, including the network’s trustees.

Volunteers are paired up with those in the community seeking friendship and visit them in their home, taking them on outings or driving them to group friendship activities.

Six weekly friendship groups operate in the community, including one for senior women in Alexandra, one for people with various types of disabilities and “Circle of Friends” groups at Cromwell College and Dunstan High School, where are paired with those who would benefit from additional socialising and friendship.

The feedback from those in the groups or who were visited by a volunteer was phenomenal and heartwarming, Mrs McCaughan said. One person’s comment on a recent survey was “You were there for me when I was so unwell. Now I’m fine and enjoying life.”

Many supported by the network had lost their independence after getting older and losing their driver’s licence, and others needed friendship because of frailty or disability, or had become lonely, isolated and disconnected in the community for other reasons. This could lead to health problems, including depression and anxiety, Mrs McCaughan said.

Central Otago Health Services Ltd (the operating company of Dunstan Hospital), Living Options, Presbyterian Support Otago and Acoss (Alexandra Council of Social Services) had all written references supporting the valuable work of the organisation and their feedback would form part of future bids for funding from various organisations, Mrs McCaughan said.

Valuable funding had been received over the years from the Central Lakes Trust, Lotteries Commission and Ministry of Health, but more was needed to continue, and a new fundraising and awareness campaign was being launched in the first week of December, she said.

It was hoped up to six cafes in Alexandra and Clyde would be involved with the “Coffee with Friends” campaign, through which businesses could pledge a certain amount per coffee or a general donation to the network. Donations from other groups and individuals would also be welcomed, Mrs McCaughan said.

Bryant, a member of one of the friendship groups, said being on “both sides of the equation” gave her a unique perspective of the work and benefits of the organisation.

She loved the opportunities the network provided to “get out and about”, and said the different outings, activities and people she met added a valuable dimension to her life.

Eileen Rawlings, who said she was proud to be 94, said she loved being part of one of the network’s friendships groups and enjoyed the activities and contact the group provided.

“I’m doing all sorts of things. We do nothing but talk. It’s great fun.”

The friendship network would love to expand its services to other towns if possible, and more volunteers would be welcomed, Mrs McCaughan said.

– “Coffee with Friends” will operate at participating cafes in Alexandra and Clyde from December 3-9. Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer, finding out more about the friendship offered by the Central Otago Friendship Network or making a donation to keep the network going can phone Jan Pessione on 3-448-7800.