On Wednesday 14 February love was in the air at Mary Chester House as 60 people attended a very special Valentine’s Day dinner.
Tables and decorations were set up outside and in the dining room. Guests enjoyed dinner, dessert, and dancing to the sounds of Frank and Nancy Sinatra singing ‘Somethin’ Stupid’, The Beatles’ classic ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’, and other well loved songs of yesteryear. The Swing Zing Dancers also offered entertainment to the delight of guests.
The importance of the night was summed up in these words from one carer:
“After my wife walked through the doors last night it was like she was nearly back to her old self…. For the first time in 3 years I was able to get my wife up to dance.”
Julie Szczurowski, Coordinator at Mary Chester House, writes below of her first-hand experience with this and other dinners hosted for carers at Mary Chester House.
Dinner clubs at Mary Chester House
Dinner clubs were first introduced at Mary Chester House in 2014. A need for carers to connect in a social atmosphere became apparent as many were saying connections with long term friends had broken down or they didn’t feel comfortable going out at night anymore.
At the time we were holding a very successful carers group at the House. Many carers were still working or needed their valuable respite time to fulfil other responsibilities. By holding a night function where they could bring their loved ones, we were able to provide an opportunity for connection with other carers in a safe, non-formal setting.
Over the years, we have had several themed dinners from Mexican, cocktail parties, barbeques, roast dinner nights and our very successful Valentine’s Day dinner.
As the dinner clubs progressed, the idea for the Valentine’s Day dinner formed when it was recognised our couples were missing the opportunity to dance. A lot of our couples had first met at the Pagoda Ballroom in Como (one of the most popular places to meet future partners in Perth at that time). No Tinder back then!
On the night of the first Valentine’s Day dinner, a volunteer band played and around 60 people attended. It was a delight to see couples, mothers and sons, brothers and sisters all up and dancing.
We regularly ask carers for feedback on the dinners. At the Valentine’s Day dinner we handed out love hearts and asked “What does love mean to you?”. The responses were quite amazing and very valuable feedback for our team to reflect on. It became apparent how special these nights are. The relationships built during the dinners certainly enables us to provide stronger support to our families.
The dinner clubs have evolved over the years and firm friendships have been formed. We were delighted on one occasion when, after setting the House up and everything looking beautiful, our carers arrived and started shuffling the tables around. Our setting of eight per table was no longer good enough as the connections had grown and everyone wanted to sit together. It was also apparent the comfort level had increased as people bought their favourite wine along to share with the group.
Volunteers, members and staff always prepare our dinners in-house. We offer a buffet-style, home cooked meal with lots of variety followed by dessert. We do ask for a $10.00 donation to assist with costs and most evenings will run a raffle to help raise a little extra money.
We are very fortunate to have a supportive team at Alzheimer’s WA and when we spread the word through the organisation asking for items to be raffled we are always amazed by the generosity of our colleagues.
In the future we would love to involve outside organisations by inviting them to supply the meal, help prepare dinner, set up and socialise. This would enable us to continue to support the dinner club without increasing costs to our families which will hopefully, in turn, help raise awareness of dementia within the community.
Mary Chester House is one of three day centres run by Alzheimer’s WA in Western Australia. All three centres are based around the Enabling Household™ model. Mary Chester House offers a range of services including carer support, social clubs and outings, and day and overnight respite.