For Activity and Lifestyle Coordinator Abby Fernandez, being recognised as Support Person of the Year at this year’s Ryman Awards was an intense experience.
She was thrilled to win and to share the momentous evening with her Evelyn Page family, but at the same time was conscious of being apart from her family who were watching the ceremony live online from the Philippines, particularly her partner Claire and baby son Zaby.
“The emotion was really high, I couldn’t even sit still,” she says, reliving the moment.
Abby began as a caregiver at Evelyn Page five years ago, and then worked as a physio assistant as that was what she had trained in back home.
Then, following some weekend shifts doing activities she discovered a new passion for that work, and was appointed the resthome activities coordinator full time.
This was a bittersweet moment for Abby, who took on the role following the tragic passing of her colleague Karin.
“At the funeral I told her I would try to do my best,” she says earnestly.
And her teammates clearly believe she is doing just that, with her award nomination describing Abby as ‘integral to the Evelyn Page team’ and ‘someone who always lends a hand and goes the extra mile to ensure her residents and their families feel happy, engaged and supported.’
Abby, who has since transferred to the hospital unit, has grown to love her residents there and rises to the challenge to think of new and stimulating activities for them.
“My residents have mixed needs, some have dementia with physical limitations and they are very vulnerable and fragile and most of them need two personal assistants. All of them have walkers,” she says.
“Like when we’re playing volleyball I play some crowd sound effects so it adds a bit of excitement and atmosphere.
“Even if they don’t know the purpose of the game I compliment them just for trying to touch the ball.”
The residents make her laugh when they affectionately respond to her requests with a cheeky ‘Yes mother!’
Abby puts effort into every detail, designing new displays for both residents and relatives to enjoy, making a note of upcoming birthdays so she can make a fuss on their big day, and thinking of new and exciting destinations to visit on outings outside of the village.
Going through two lockdowns put Abby’s creative talents to the test.
“Our salon was closed so our Clinical Manager Raewyn showed me how to use a curler and so I learned to set their hair – I was quick to book them into the salon again when it reopened though!” she laughs.
Now, Abby is intent on completing her studies to be a registered diversional therapist so she can apply for her New Zealand residency.
“The study covers emotional, social and spiritual wellbeing, and also includes exercise to improve the physical side in order to encourage our residents and give them a boost and make them feel more confident about themselves in all aspects of life.”