Having worked with former offenders for over 10 years, Eleanor Wong was no stranger to social work. However, it still took a leap of faith for her to make a job switch and start working with the elderly at St Hilda’s Community Services Centre, Friends@St Hilda’s Link. The move threw her into unfamiliar territory and, for the first few days, she questioned if she had made the right decision. Seeking answers, she turned to prayer, and was rewarded with a strong sense of peace.
As a Community Executive, Eleanor engages with the senior residents of the Tanjong Rhu estate who visit the centre. Offering activities from indoor games and light exercises such as brisk walking to language classes, the centre enables the elderly to keep fit and even pick up basic English and Mandarin hanyu pinyin. But what Eleanor enjoys most about her job is chatting with the elderly and understanding their needs. She recalls a particularly memorable incident when an elderly man asked if the centre could help him get a walking stick as he had difficulty moving around. Coincidentally, someone had just donated a walking stick and Eleanor got to be the bearer of the good news. “You could see his face light up with joy,” she says. “It’s these moments that I treasure the most.”
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But Eleanor also quickly learnt that the seniors can be quite stubborn, holding on steadfastly to their opinions. She remembers an elderly woman who complained that her social worker was finding fault with her because she was being asked so many questions. In actual fact, the social worker had only done so to review her case. To solve the problem, Eleanor adopts a more patient approach, taking the time to repeat her explanations and listen to her clients’ concerns.
Eleanor credits her proficiency at her job to the DSS and HDSS programmes. Besides the ideal structure of the courses, which allowed her to work and study at the same time, the programmes also equipped her with the necessary skills to engage the seniors better. Through her DSS and HDSS lessons, Eleanor has learnt how to communicate more effectively with the elderly. When she first started out, she had the misconception that she needed to raise her voice when speaking to the seniors as they were hard of hearing. However, after taking the module ‘Working with Seniors’ as part of the DSS programme, she realised that it would be more effective if she sat down and spoke to them at eye level.
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While it wasn’t easy juggling work and studies, Eleanor is proud to say that her efforts have paid off. Through her perseverance, she graduated as one of the top students in her cohort for DSS, and is well on her way to completing her HDSS.
Eleanor jokes that her brother has always teased her for being a kaypoh or busybody. But the truth is, community and social work are really her passion, and she loves helping people. And she is very persistent in her work as well – she spent three years trying to convince one of the elderly residents to join the centre. She finally succeeded, showing that it pays to keep on trying.