In 18 months Sharon Addy, 62, has turned her life around and now she wants to help others – so much so that she even travelled 138 kilometres to Melbourne to speak in front of 225 people about an initiative addressing social isolation and loneliness of older people.
This is remarkable because 18 months ago Sharon was extremely shy and spent most of her days at home alone – many of them spent eating a lot of chocolate – believing she was worthless, she didn’t belong and people wouldn’t want to know her, let alone become her friends.
And then the vicious cycle:
I ate because I was lonely and depressed, and then gaining so much weight made me feel more miserable and depressed. Some days I would just spend most of the time crying, Sharon says.
Then one day her doctor suggested she join a club. She timidly went to the Moe Senior Citizen Centre to join up, but her self-doubt meant she didn’t go through with it. Two months later she tried again and one of the members made her feel so welcome she joined.
Now she belongs to five clubs in Moe – including the Moe Senior Citizen Centre – and sits on two of their committees. She has lost 23 kilograms thanks to her increased confidence and the many activities she now attends, including weekly line dancing. She is also the “welcoming person” for new-comers to the seniors’ club.
When Sharon told her doctor she would be speaking at a forum for local government and community organisations about her personal experience and the importance of providing welcoming and inclusive groups, her doctor was amazed because Sharon had lacked the confidence to even walk out of her own front door to speak to people.
Today, Sharon is a passionate ambassador for the Victorian Government’s Strengthening Seniors Inclusion and Participation in Local Communities (SSIP) initiative, which brought together organisations to focus on addressing social isolation and loneliness of older people.
The initiative is a key component of the Victorian Government’s response to the Commissioner for Senior Victorians’ report Ageing is everyone’s business, which found that seniors need more opportunities to join, attend and participate in clubs, groups, organisations and activities in the community. Seven local government areas were selected to participate in the initiative based on factors including socioeconomic profile, proportion of single-person households and existing networks.
Commissioner for Senior Victorians, Gerard Mansour, Chair of the SSIP Statewide reference group, says older people want to play a meaningful role with value and purpose as they age.
We know they want to participate where they live, and that what is available does not always meet their needs, Gerard says.
Sharon says the Moe Senior Citizens Centre has changed her life.
I used to think that people didn’t want to talk to me, they wouldn’t like what I looked like, she says.
But now I feel like a worthwhile person, I have friends, I meet friends for coffee, I’m fitter, happier and I’ve lost 23 kilos. Being part of the clubs has done that.