A saint among Ceduna seniors

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By Kaitlin Kavanagh

There are few things more rewarding for Leeanne ‘Twig’ Holmes than helping senior residents explore the country outside of their home on the Eyre Peninsula.

Originally part of her job as activities co-ordinator at the Ceduna District Health Service, these seniors trips were sadly no longer viable for the hospital. So in 2012 Leeanne decided to volunteer her time outside of work to ensure they would continue.

“Every time I went down the street one of the group would stop me to ask when they could go again because they were so wonderful. In the end I thought ‘oh what’s a week out of my time to take them?’” she says.

Leeanne has organised transport, accommodation and care for groups of up to 35 seniors at a time, allowing them to travel from Ceduna, Streaky Bay, Wudinna and Kyancutta (over 800km west of Adelaide) to enjoy activities that are not always accessible to them.

The group has journeyed as far as Kangaroo Island, Adelaide, and Swan Hill in Victoria to enjoy music concerts, restaurant dinners and even helicopter rides over the Flinders Ranges. For many seniors, these excursions would not have been possible without Leeanne, who also ensures all of their medical care needs are met.

Leeanne ‘Twig’ Holmes with rescue greyhound Zeppo who visits seniors at the Ceduna hospital and village. Leeanne is Ceduna’s 2019 Citizen of the Year. Photo by Kaitlin Kavanagh.

Leeanne says she believes these trips are really important for older people in regional communities, because bus tours and assisted holidays are usually only available from Adelaide, the closest major city.

“Either family have to drive them 800km or they catch a coach or plane on their own, then they have to figure out how to catch a taxi or public transport which they are not used to. Some of these people are 80-90 years old and it’s just a nightmare for them,” Leanne says.

She says the only reward she needs is to see the joy on the faces of seniors while they are travelling.

“The best thing I think is sitting around the campfire, listening to them tell stories. It’s just beautiful seeing them laughing and crying because they are so overwhelmed by it all,” Leanne says.

Despite her humility, the Smoky Bay resident has been named the 2019 Citizen of the Year in her community. The award was nominated by one of the seniors who regularly travels with Leeanne. She was awarded not only for her volunteer work with seniors, but for contributions to the local sports club, her responsibility as an emergency foster carer and her work welcoming student doctors into Ceduna.

Leeanne has volunteered countless hours for her beloved Smoky Bay Community Club, where she was first exposed to the overwhelming mateship and generosity in the community, values that have been central in every facet of her life.

Most recently, she has organised for a rescue greyhound “Zeppo” to regularly visit the seniors at the Ceduna hospital and village.

“I get back to work on Monday and the first thing I hear when I walk through the door isn’t ‘Hello Twig, did you have a good weekend?’, it’s ‘Where’s the dog?’” she says.

Leeanne continues to find new ways to bring joy to her seniors both in and outside of work and says that she cannot see herself stopping.

“I ask them all if they want to do it again they always say ‘yes of course, we’ll leave it up to you to plan.’ As long as the numbers are there I will continue. It’s just gorgeous I love it.”

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