Career Diaries: What it's Like Working in Community Partnerships in a Community Care Organisation
Name: Shereen Ng
Occupation: Head, Community Partnership & Communications (CP&C) at St Joseph's Home
Years of experience: 4
Education background: Graduated from the Renaissance Engineering Programme with a Bachelor Degree in Engineering Science and a Master Degree in Technology Management
Years with current company: 3
Best lesson learned on the job: As we age, there is a loss and there is growth. Outwardly, we might be becoming weaker and frailer. Inwardly, there is the opportunity for increased love, humility and patience. Ageing is a privilege, not a curse.
Why did you join the Community Partnership & Communications department in a Community Care organisation?
Having graduated with an engineering degree, it never crossed my mind to enter the social sector. I just knew upon graduation that I did not want to become an engineer and that I liked working with seniors.
The opportunity came when a staff from the CP&C department approached me. I was running exercise programmes for seniors in the community then and was asked to bring it into the nursing home. It was an interesting idea – bringing fitness into a nursing home as a night-time programme, and I thought, why not?
The first time I entered the Home, it was 7pm. The place was beautiful. Residents actively participated in the exercises. They were also warm and friendly towards the youth volunteers. The CP&C staff were always there to support me, ensuring that the logistics were set up and worked closely with me to improve the programme.
I remember being inspired by the creativity and dedication of the staff. Two months of volunteering passed quickly. By the end of the same year, I joined as a full-time staff.
Was this your first job?
Yes, it was my first full-time job.
What are some of the reactions you usually get when you tell people what you do?
“Isn’t is depressing?”
“What is a young lady like yourself doing in a nursing home?”
“Why don’t you make use of your engineering degree and earn more?”
How would you describe your job to someone who has never heard of it?
In the CP&C department, we’re in the mission of empowering our partners to love and care for our seniors. We cultivate partnerships through various touchpoints such as volunteer engagement, social media and outreach efforts. On a typical day, you can see our team introducing new volunteers to residents, gathering residents for a live performance or brainstorming new programmes.
We also manage the print and digital communications. Through visuals and words, we intentionally share our latest eldercare efforts such as the intergenerational programmes to inform and inspire readers. Hopefully, through these platforms, we invite others to join us in shaping an ageing experience that we would all look forward to.
What are the expectations of being the head of CP&C?
I expected the job to be all fun and games. I would plan events and work with different profiles of people. Given that the job is within a nursing home, my peers and family also assumed it to be an easy, relaxing one.
What was one thing about the job that surprised you after you joined?
I was surprised to find a deeper purpose in my work. More than that, I was surprised at how my career would involve a spiritual journey of pondering, struggling and discovering the beauty at every stage of life.
“What comes to mind when you think of a nursing home?” That was a question I liked to ask new volunteers. I often get responses like “sick people,” “bored,” “lonely” or “watching TV.” I used to reject these ideas and was quick to correct the volunteers. But my own interactions with residents were confirming that boredom, loneliness and loss were plaguing them.
And I find myself asking the same questions that residents wrestle with and volunteers get confused by: Who are residents beyond their physical limitations? When faced with the inevitability of human weakness and frailty, how would I live with myself? How would others live with me?
To be able to journey with others in discovering the answers to these questions, I first needed to reconcile my own fears and uncertainties. That prompted the journey to reconcile God’s promise of “life more abundant” (John 10:10) and what I am observing in the physical. It challenged me to be open and honest with myself – which was not what I expected when I first signed up for the job.
What is the best thing about your job?
The best thing about my job is that it keeps me humble and real. After nearly four-years of studies in Masters of Arts in Counseling, I am nowhere near fully comprehending the complexity of human life. The more I understand myself, the more I change as a person and the more I need to learn.
It’s the same with residents and volunteers. I am finding that it is OK to not have the answers. It’s the journey that is more important than the destination. The exciting thing is – the more I learn, the better I get at asking questions and the braver I am at being in the unknowns with the people around me.
What is the one thing that keep you going?
It is a privilege to share in the lives of my colleagues, residents and the volunteers as we grow up and grow old. Reminding myself what a privilege and excitement it is keeps me going. My experience at St Joseph’s Home has been nothing short of delightful and insightful.
Describe what a day in your life is like.
9am - I prefer to start my day reviewing my to-do list. It helps me stay focused throughout the day. Once I have spent 5-10 minutes doing so, I open up my laptop to look through my emails.
9.15am - We have a team huddle every week to keep track of our key projects and align ourselves to department’s goals. I look through the department goals, timeline and budget for the year and do a scan of our ongoing projects in preparation for the afternoon’s team huddle.
9.30am - I try to set aside my morning for creative work. Today, I’m working on a contribution piece for Hospice Link’s upcoming issue. We have proposed a story angle to the editor last week and have since completed the first draft of our contribution piece. I am reviewing the copy and visuals again before submitting it to the editorial team.
10.30am - Another communications project we have is the redevelopment of our website. The web vendor has made a round of changes and I spend time reviewing the web demo. We are adding new pages to the site to highlight our residents’ art pieces and our co-located Infant & Childcare Centre, amongst others. I schedule meetings with other heads of department (HODs) to get feedback on our new web pages.
12pm - Lunch break
1pm - I have an upcoming meeting with freelance artists on a new arts project. It is slated to start later this month, but there might be adjustments to the timeline in light of the new advisories. Before the meeting, I take time to review the latest advisories.
1.15pm - The meeting with the freelance artists was fruitful! We finalised the programme outline and exchanged important updates.
2.15pm - We work closely with school partners to run intergenerational programmes. These programmes emphasise relationship-building between our residents and youth volunteers. One of the programmes we’re currently running is Virtual Hosts, where students run therapy-led activities with residents over eight sessions. I prepare the equipment and head up to the resident clusters to co-facilitate intergenerational programme with our Occupational Therapist.
4pm - After the session ends, the therapist and I have a short debrief to see how we could improve for the next session. We typically discuss observations of how residents’ responded during and after the session, challenges presented by the volunteers and residents, and suggested improvements for the next session.
4.30pm - It’s time for our weekly team huddle! On the agenda today is to finalise our next quarter’s plans for volunteer engagement. COVID- 19 has challenged our team to be more creative in how we run online volunteer programmes and continue to connect with our volunteers.
5.30pm - Before I end the day, I review my to-do list and prepare for tomorrow’s activity.
5.45pm - I head home and take a break, before I start a new day tomorrow.