Creating meaningful connections at Woollahra

For Woollahra resident Irene Retter and Leisure & Lifestyle Therapist Lara Karney, their bond has strengthened over the challenges of the past year. 

Since Irene Retter moved to Woollahra from her CBD apartment four years ago, she has settled into a familiar routine. “I’m happy here – I’m lucky to have my family and friends who call and visit often. I like to go out walking every day and have coffee with the newspaper. I love to read.” 

Much of that changed, of course, when COVID-19 arrived and comings and goings became more difficult for all of us, especially in residential care. 

That’s when Lara and Irene’s relationship deepened. “I knew she was missing her daily cafe outings,” Lara says, “so when I arrived at work, we’d start the day with coffee and a chat. It was great for me, too.” 

For Lara, keeping up the spirits of Woollahra residents and staff alike became a focus during the pandemic, staying connected via video and messaging. A clip she made of the team dancing to Happy even made it onto Channel 7’s Sunrise. 

“Irene and I would do facetime calls, filters and funny videos for her great-grandchildren,” Lara says. Irene speaks proudly of her daughter Suzana and granddaughter Rachel, both doctors like her late husband Paul, and enjoys their regular visits with the children and dog. 

“Lara’s like my relative – she knows my family and I know hers,” Irene says, gesturing to a photo of her with Lara’s own mother Careen during a visit from South Africa. The pair still ask after each other often. 

“We’re both immigrants, so we have that in common,” says Lara of her connection with Czech-born Irene, who remembers turning 16 on the day WWII ended in Europe. She had spent the previous two years living alone while her mother was in Terezin, her father was sent to work in Germany and her younger brother Ivor was cared for by family. While her parents and brother returned, most of her extended family perished. 

“Irene is such a strong, inspirational woman who has been through so much. I love hearing about her life and the way she lights up when she talks about her late husband, Paul,” Lara says.

As well as their morning catch-ups, Irene often joins afternoon meditation sessions. “It began with one resident who had an interest in meditation, and has become more and more popular,” explains Lara, reflecting the Leisure & Lifestyle team’s approach to personalised, meaningful activities. 

This ongoing commitment to person-directed care comes naturally to the tight-knit Woollahra team. “There’s a real sense of belonging here, and a culture of inclusiveness as a workplace,” says Executive Care Manager Natalie Bolel. “It’s good for the team as well as for the residents, who feel safe and supported.” 

“I feel so fortunate to have found my passion at this stage in my life,” says Lara of her role. “I feel privileged to spend my days with incredible people with so much life experience and fascinating stories to share.”

“Lara is so good to me, she’s fantastic,” finishes Irene, “and I’m not just saying that because she’s sitting here!”