We can all make a difference and help others, whatever our role in life.
"It was funny. We were looking for some old photos of customers for a book we were working on, and I came across a badge in my mother’s things stamped ‘Home Help Service of NSW’. That’s when I remembered going with her to different customers’ homes when I was on school holidays,” Ramona Kleipas says.
Ramona, a Regional General Manager at Australian Unity Home Care Services, says, “Of course, you can’t take your children along to work these days. Things are very different.”
It was more than 30 years ago that Ramona’s mother, Jacoba de Gruyter, or Coby as most people call her, worked with the Home Help Services as a home aide. The service, which became the New South Wales Government Home Care Services, was acquired by Australian Unity in 2016.
These days, aged in her 80s, Coby has her own housekeeping help. Although her life and Ramona’s have been very different, at the heart of both has been helping other people.
Amsterdam to Australia
Coby arrived in Sydney from the Netherlands as a newlywed in 1960. Within a few years, she had four children.
“It was hard. It was hot. There was the foreign language. And I missed my family,” she says.
Coby had left her parents, seven sisters and four brothers behind. That’s a lot of family to miss.
“I had lovely siblings. When you come from a big family, you really miss them. We went back many times to visit and even to stay, but we always came back to Australia. I have four children and 11 grandchildren, so now I have my own family here.”
On the job
Life might have been difficult, but as Coby says, “the Dutch are never backward in coming forward, so we always managed to get by”.
“I was used to working hard,” she says. “All my life I had worked, and I was used to housework.
And I like to do things properly. If I’m sweeping a room, I make sure the corners are done.”
Coby worked with the Home Help Service for about five years, and you can be sure not much missed her eagle eye when she was on the job.
“I really loved it, getting around and seeing people.”
Ramona agrees: “She is a real ‘people’ person, always looking out for others and putting others first. She’s just turned 84 but she is still active, despite having arthritis, a knee replacement and a hip replacement. And she’ll tell you she needs a shoulder replacement soon, too.”
Coby puts her need for “spare parts” down to her early life. “I worked in the family business as a butcher. I used to carry nearly half a pig, quarter of a cow, in a cold butcher’s shop.”
Despite this tough beginning, Coby seems remarkably hale and hearty, living independently on the top floor of an apartment block in Miranda, New South Wales.
She receives two hours a week of assistance around her home from Australian Unity’s Home Care Services. “I have a lovely lady, Sandra, who comes in and helps me with what I’d like done – cleaning and tidying up. I can’t do so much these days.”
Coby still makes a contribution and has volunteered at the Hazelhurst Arts Centre at Gymea in New South Wales for 15 years. She travels by bus every Friday to help out on the desk – answering questions and helping visitors.
Helping others is something she shares with her daughter Ramona.
From corporate to caring
Ramona worked at Qantas in management and leadership for more than 20 years but decided that she wanted a job with a different purpose.
“I was looking for a position where I could help others and make a difference,” she says. “It was a huge learning curve moving to the aged care and disability sector.”
Ramona joined Home Care Services of NSW in 2013 and has since been promoted to General Manager of the south-east region of the state, overseeing six Branch Managers and about 500 staff, delivering services daily to more than 6000 clients. “Every day is different. Anything can happen but I always feel we’ve helped improve the lives of our customers,” Ramona says.
“Oh, I’m very proud of Ramona,” says Coby, and Ramona speaks just as highly of her mother. Helping others definitely runs in the family.
Words: Margaret Barca