By Kasey Challenger, age 20
When I started sixth form, I was struggling with insecurity about what I wanted to do when I left. I had a rough idea that I wanted to study psychology at university but I was unsure where this would put me in a few years’ time. When I started my journey with YOPEY, I couldn’t see myself in a career working with the elderly because of my misconceptions and prejudices that made me wary about care homes. But I decided to put my prejudices to one side and volunteer in a care home near my college as a YOPEY Befriender.
After training by YOPEY founder Tony Gearing, mainly about how to relate to people living with dementia, I spent the first few visits feeling nervous and worried. However, I soon found the residents to be as kind and fun-loving as anyone else. I started to gear my interest in music therapy towards the elderly. After a visit from a chair-exercise practitioner who used music as a way to get the residents moving and smiling, the air in the room seemed lighter. It honestly felt like magic.
The photo above is from one of these ‘magic’ sessions. I am the YOPEY Befriender in the background with the short blonde hair and waving a bright red pompom.
After completely my A-levels, I went to university to study psychology, but felt the human connection that I had so enjoyed at the care home was missing. As a result, I decided to take a year out and get a job instead. I found a position covering maternity leave for a well-being and activities coordinator in another care home for the elderly. The experience I had had with YOPEY meant that connecting with and getting to know the residents initially was a lot more chilled. I could draw on my first experience and be mindful of what goes down well and what to avoid.
In this role, I was able to bring music into the care home and provide the same magic for more and more people. As well as providing countless art and craft projects, movie days, bingo, exercise and yoga, group games and quizzes, and — perhaps my favourite and most rewarding part of the job — one-to-one chats and life story work. Both myself and the residents would look forward to our chats as, occasionally, I would be the only genuine human interaction they would have on that day.
The residents of my care home enjoyed the quizzes and word games sent in by talented YOPEY Befrienders, who were volunteering virtually during the pandemic. One resident found a lasting friend in her YOPEY penpal and looks forward to continuing that friendship by sending and receiving letters regularly.
I recently finished my maternity cover job at the care home and I plan to resume my psychology degree. This time I am more mature and have lasting memories and a passion for elderly care. I hope that when I’ve finished my course, I will come back to care and continue to improve myself and the lives of the elderly, which really are transformed by the small, kind things that young people do.