Cathy Mead, COTA Volunteer and Chair of Policy Council

Cathy first joined us through the COTA cycling group, and has been a member of the Policy Council for two years.

Cathy has a medical degree from University of Sydney and post graduate qualifications in public health. She worked as a Commonwealth public servant for more than 20 years in health policy, health promotion and international health.  After coming to Melbourne in 2000, she was involved in coordination of public health policy across the Commonwealth and state governments and taught health policy at Latrobe University in the Masters of Public Health program.

The Policy Council sets COTA Victoria’s strategic policy directions through consultations with working groups, government, research centres and community groups. The Council is responsible for COTA Victoria’s submissions to government, contributes to COTA National policy Council and its members represent COTA on a range of committees and working groups.

Helen Wu, COTA Volunteer

Helen came from Shanghai, China 20 years ago. She arrived four years after her husband who completed his Master of Engineering here. Helen taught mathematics and later  tutored people in Mandarin.

She heard about COTA and their need to reach older people in the Chinese community. Helen was active in the Chinese community, she joined COTA became a volunteer and is now a peer educator with ‘beyond maturity blues’ and leads team of four Chinese volunteers who deliver sessions in Mandarin and Cantonese raising awareness about anxiety and depression.  Over the last two months Helen and her team has presented 12 sessions to about 500 people in the Chinese community.

Helen will soon add to her responsibilities and will be a peer educator with Be Active Your Way in a program encouraging older people to be more active.

Janet Bennett, COTA Volunteer and coordinator of COTA CYCLING

Janet BennetJanet was inspired to join COTA in 2000 after attending a Challenging Ageing program and as a peer educator gave talks to community groups on the ‘Wise use of medicines ‘.  In 2011 Janet was presented with a Minister for Health Volunteer Award for outstanding individual achievement for her volunteer work with COTA since 2000.

Her keen interest in cycling also led her to establish COTA Cycling which now has over 45 members.  Every week they meet and cycle from Southbank in the CBD where they take advantage of Melbourne’s improving network of cycling paths.  “Cycling is a wonderful way to socialise and keep fit.  Cycling gives you many benefits,” Janet says.

Janet was a maths teacher at leading Melbourne high schools and an also had an active involvement in the Secondary Teachers Union, and spent two years on the Superannuation Board.

John Doutch

John DoutchJohn Doutch is a peer educator and has worked in a voluntary capacity with COTA on many programs including conducting Challenging Ageing and presenting Beyond Maturity Blues sessions.  He also assists in mentoring new peer educators.

He is also involved with OM:NI (Older Men: New Ideas) which in May 2013 received the Minister for Health’s Volunteer Award.

John freely admits to being a workaholic during his career and it is clear that COTA, and older Australians in general, are benefitting from his ‘addiction’ to working.  Not long ago John facilitated 18 education sessions in Yarrawonga over four and a half days and he averages one talk per week.

John retired early and did some of the things he’d always wanted to do, including ballooning!  In 2004, he attended a workshop on positive ageing run by the City of Casey.  This led to him joining COTA and his success since led him to being  awarded the City of Casey’s Senior of the Year Award in2011

Maree Jeffs COTA Volunteer

Maree Jeffs

After a career in nursing and local government Maree came to COTA  on the recommendation of her friend Anne O’Shaughnessy, who shared Maree’s interests and who was already a peer educator

Maree’s work in the aged care and disability areas caused her to want to continue her role in advocating on behalf of older people and helping to bring about change.

As a peer educator in the Beyond Maturity Blues program Maree has spoken to many groups. “I feel strongly about depression amongst older people as this is often not spoken about and needs to be brought out into the open,”

She is particularly concerned about improving the lot of older people in hospitals and aged care facilities where she says “ageism is often manifested and older people assumed to be passive and dependent. Elderly people and their needs are as diverse as younger people; they have the same rights to be consulted, informed and not to be patronised.”   These attitudes need to change so staff training needs to address these issues.

As a result of her COTA work Maree was invited to be involved the National Ageing Research institute which aims to be a center of excellence for research into ageing and improving the quality of life and health of older people.

Maria Garzo COTA Volunteer

Maria Garzo is a busy person, as a peer educator for COTA’s Beyond Maturity Blues program for the past five years, Maria has delivered over one hundred sessions to various Italian community groups.  Her community activity background is impressive. Since 1992, Maria has volunteered with the Italian Pensioners Group of Keilor, Doutta Galla Community Health and as treasurer of Australian Pensioners’ Voice.

It is not surprising  that when a representative from COTA came out to the Moreland Seniors Action group to ask for volunteers with the Beyond Maturity Blues program, Maria put her hand up.

“There were nine others who started with me four years ago but now there are just three.  It can be difficult because older Italians just don’t want to hear about depression and anxiety. We are now getting somewhere. I really enjoy meeting people and get great satisfaction when people come up at the end of a session and thank me. As a result of our talks many people go on to get the help they need”.

When issues affecting pensioners arise in the news media, Maria is often approached to comment. Her last appearance was on Channel 9 news a few months back when she spoke of how single pensioners like her were finding it tough to pay the utility bills.

Mary Walsh. COTA Volunteer

Mary WalshMary will soon be celebrating her tenth anniversary year with COTA.

“When I retired from nursing I was looking for something to do that would be challenging and stimulating.  A friend suggested I enrol in a Challenging Ageing program. I got so much out of this and I have been involved with COTA ever since,” Mary said.

Mary facilitates with the Challenging Ageing Program and enjoys the experience.  She said: “This is one of COTA Vic’s most important programs as it can have a major impact on people’s lives. It encourages self-exploration and self-discovery and participants can learn much from each other. A highlight is the work we do on identifying ageism and working out strategies to deal with it.  Another bonus is that Challenging Ageing opens up new ideas of what life can offer for an older person and we certainly get lots of leads by sharing experiences, “

In 2001 Mary and her husband spent three months  in China teaching English. I taught kindergarten to grade 5 in Yantai, a town of 6 million people and this was a most enjoyable experience.

Mary is quick to point out that although she volunteers in a number of COTA Vic programs including beyondmaturityblues, medicines and re-activate in the parks, she is very much involved with life outside COTA  and just loves movies and books.

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