Auckland , New Zealand

Volunteering for Health, Heart and Work

Elizabeth Knox Home and Hospital

April 15, 2015

A volunteer program connects migrants to relevant work experience while fostering a caring intercultural environment for both workers and residents in a residential health facility

Volunteers engaging with residents Oct 14 (3)Like many migrants seeking to improve their skills and create a better life in New Zealand, Jatinder Talwar found his initial job search attempts frustrating. He had completed his training as a registered nurse in India, but employers in Auckland kept turning him down for work because he didn’t have relevant New Zealand work experience.

While improving his skills completing the Health and Service Management course at Ntec Tertiary Group  in Auckland, a teacher connected him to the Elizabeth Knox Home and Hospital (EKHH) volunteer scheme. Working twice a week as a volunteer at EKHH has opened a whole world of new possibilities for Jatinder.

The ‘Knox Home’ offers residential care to the elderly and young adults with physical disabilities. Its aim is to eliminate the “loneliness, helplessness and boredom” often present in long-term care facilities. They do so by creating a resident-centred community filled with variety and spontaneity, close and continuous relationships with staff and the opportunity for residents to give as well as receive care.

Values revolve around principles of partnership with Maori, celebrating and honoring cultural diversity in alignment with values of community, or whanau (family), allowing for direct connections with the community at large.

EKHH actively recruits global talent, promoting intercultural connection within the wider community and embracing large numbers of new migrant workers and volunteers. So the Knox community is extremely diverse. Over 26 nationalities are represented among residents and over 55 nationalities in the volunteer community speak more than 50 different languages.

A key volunteer initiative at EKHH works to help skilled migrant workers while they re-certify or gain the accreditation needed to practice in their chosen field. A six part communication workshop also supports migrants in their English skills, literacy and helps them develop interview and public speaking skills to get employment. Volunteer coordinator, Kristen O’Reilly explains how the programme helps improve the volunteer’s employment and earning potential: “Volunteers are migrants to Auckland and international students where English is their second language. Without employment skills and connections in the community, they lack confidence to find work.”

“The programme aims to address these issues while they get their registration to work. Migrants can gain valuable New Zealand experience knowing they will have job prospects on completion of their registration.”

Living Together, Day by Day

Just by interacting day to day, a generational mix of residents is teaching newcomers all about New Zealand and its cultural values and supporting them with their English while the volunteers provide companionship and the opportunity for residents to give care as well as receive it.

Jatinder has gained a lot of confidence in his nursing skills while volunteering at EKHH learning from the broad range of responsibilities. The institutional culture has also made him a more caring professional, he’s learned how to make hospital living more like living in a residential home: “It’s about taking away the stress from patients and giving them a good living experience in a very relaxed, open environment.”

jatinder pic 3Along with EKHH English classes, Jatinder enjoyed Maori culture lessons, where he learned tips that help when making home visits to Maori or Pacific Island families through the employment he now has with the Senate Nursing Bureau. “Such things as knowing you can’t touch a person on the head. And that you must remove your shoes when entering a home. That’s been really helpful.”

Another volunteer, Renee Zhang explains the residents have taught her about life and being positive: “Each resident talks to me about different things and tells me different stories but collectively, they all convey this idea of living optimistically and being kind to one another. My social skills have strengthened by talking to a wide range of residents, each with a different personality or background. Overall, volunteering has given me a massive opportunity to thrive in growth.”

Over the past five years, EKHH efforts to promote higher levels of resident participation and spontaneity through increased care and family engagement at ‘the home’ have paid off. The wider community of staff, volunteers, family and friends are vitally involved in daily life at EKHH, which is clearly much more than just a home for the elderly. Residents and staff give back to the community just as much as the community gives to the residents.

EKHH resident Max Pemberton says: “I thoroughly enjoy speaking with all the volunteers here and get a great deal of satisfaction from encouraging them, especially the foreign students. I encourage them in their education. They are lovely people with big hearts and it’s obvious. It gives me so much satisfaction seeing them smile when I encourage them. It’s a unique programme and I enjoy seeing them grow.”

And Helen Wilson: “There are quite a few volunteers on the weekend who are all very nice and bright. They are very caring and fun to have around. The place would be lacking something without them.”


The programme was initially funded with a grant of $10,000 from the NZ Department of Internal Affairs and its Community Organisation Grants Scheme which supported the Weekend Volunteer Support person for a year. The rest of the programme has been funded by EKHH itself. The programme has become an integral part of the community and with increased operational costs and building projects planned, EKHH will need additional funding to continue.

The programme has expanded considerably since it started in 2013 and now has 853 registered volunteers. In 2014, the programme won the Cultural Celebration Award in the Equal Employment Opportunities Trust Diversity Awards.  But it has been successful in many more ways:

Kristen says: “Knox expected to see boredom and loneliness diminish in resident’s lives with the growth of this programme. The wonderful surprise to all was how much meaning it has had with volunteers.”


Making it Work for You:

  • Hire a Volunteer Coordinator to have someone responsible for managing the issues  and new ideas that will come with the growth of the volunteering programme
  • Develop training and development opportunities to make sure volunteers have the skills they need to succeed
  • Create opportunities for volunteer feedback – let their voices and experiences be heard
  • Build flexibility into the volunteer experience to enhance the learning experience. A variety of responsibilities will create scope for volunteer initiative and creativity.
  • Are there any community health facilities in your area that could benefit from the establishment of volunteer schemes that connect the migrant community with residents for mutual benefit?

For this Good Idea contact:

Kristen O’Reilly, Elizabeth Knox Home and Hospital
10 Ranfurly Road,
Epsom, New Zealand,
+64 9 520 8447

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