Published on 14 January 2019

Fish Feeders nourish social connections

Enriching the lives of people who are elderly and feel isolated is why Lisa Elder loves her job and Justin Savage volunteers. Social Connections is a unique program where everyone involved flourishes – participants and providers

Lack of mobility, transportation and even confidence can isolate people, impacting on their wellbeing, their families and their community. Social Connections addresses this head on — with a smile. It’s a program that gets people out of the house and back into the community, so whether the focus is on fishing, dancing or excursions there’s a group to suit almost everyone.

Lisa is the City of Onkaparinga’s Social Connections Coordinator who doesn’t see obstacles, just opportunities to help.

This is her story:

“We started Social Connections in 2009 with funding from the Commonwealth Home Support Program. The aim was to identify people at risk of isolation and get them out of the home and socially connected. We then worked with them one-on-one to link them into activities they had an interest in.

“We started to find that a lot of people wanted to revisit places that held special memories for them, places like Victor Harbor and Hahndorf. Or they wanted to do activities they enjoyed when they were younger, like fishing, playing canasta or social outings.

“In 2015 I was given an opportunity to get people out-and-about and that’s when the program flourished. Participant numbers have increased from 25 in April 2015 to more than 350, just through word of mouth and My Aged Care referrals.

“We have found that bus trips bring people together in a non-confrontational way and it’s easy for them to chat and discover common interests. That’s how our movie, coffee, lunch and canasta groups came about, and we’ve just opened our third mindfulness colouring-in session. Participants tell us what’s important to them and then we organise it. When it’s flourishing we step back. We just find a way to help.

“For instance, in our dance group we worked with Parkinson’s SA to facilitate sessions where dances are choreographed to the abilities of participants, whether they be seated or standing. They love it. The music, the laughter — and then everyone goes for coffee afterwards.

“People tell us all the time what a difference the program makes to their lives, but what’s great about it is that we don’t offer a program where people become dependent on us, we foster one that empowers them to actually look outside the program and do things together.

“What I love is the support they receive from each other and how some participants want to give back to the program by coming on board as volunteers.”

Justin is one such volunteer:

“My primary concern is looking after Mum and I was finding it hard to get out of the house, but my cousin Pauline encouraged me to try Fish Feeders. Mum was keen for me to get involved but I was a bit hesitant at first, then on my first day I thought ‘I don’t mind this’. I was hooked. Literally.

“The group is called Fish Feeders because that’s what we do ­– we feed the fish. Most of us catch and release. It’s more about the friendships, which is why I thought I’d get more involved. Now I’m a volunteer and it’s nice giving back to the community I’ve lived in for most of my life.

“It’s a lot of fun and I still get to fish in between untangling lines. I enjoy it when people who are not affiliated with us come up and say it’s a great program — because it is. Lisa and the crew at the council do a wonderful job and they don’t get enough credit for it. I’ve lived in five different council areas and Onkaparinga outshines them all. You won’t find something like this elsewhere.

“I’ve always liked to make people happy and this is a program that makes me happy. It’s a nice feeling. We laugh a lot and I’ve made a lot of friends. I only see them once a week, generally, but they’re more than friends now ­— I consider them family.

“It makes Mum feel good too. She’s extremely happy that I’m doing something for myself.

“I struggled a bit at first. Am I a carer, am I a volunteer? I decided that I’m just another fisherman enjoying a day with his mates and I’m lucky enough to do it every week.”

Fish Feeders is supported by the Australian Government Department of Health.

Interested in volunteering? Information is available at or for more information about Social Connections contact Lisa or Sandy on 8301 7232.

Friday Fish Feeders