Rebuilding and reuniting after COVID
“I got out of bed one morning and didn’t have anything to do.”
The words of John Doutch, followed by hearty laughter, embody the spirit that exists between a group of ageing, older men that share their experience and knowledge at monthly meetings held at the Outlook Community Centre in Pakenham.
‘Ageing’ and ‘older’ may sound offensive to some…but these gentlemen are actually bonded by those two words.
Older Men: New Ideas (OM:NI) is a men’s discussion group developed by COTA Victoria that provides a safe, confidential and respectful space for men to share their thoughts, experiences and ideas.
Doutch is a long-time member of OM:NI, a group that now meets on the second Wednesday of each month as it looks to rebuild and reunite after Covid.
“I was recently retired, had nothing to do, and in the letterbox was a pamphlet advertising a program about the challenges of ageing, run by an organisation named COTA,” Doutch said.
“I thought why not, I’ll give it a go. “My involvement all stemmed from there.
“I got involved in OM:NI and within five years we had started up five groups within the South East.”
For Doutch, it didn’t take long for a clear message to sink in about the challenges facing men as they entered the elderly years of their lives.
“I remember one guy speaking at a meeting and the discussion topic was friendships,” Doutch recalled.
“He was always very quiet, but he stood up and said he wanted to talk about friendships. “We all sat back and listened and he spoke about the fact that he had no friends anymore, but not because of anything that had happened.
“He had no friends because all of them had died.
“It really got me thinking that it’s important to maintain a circle of friends.
“The circle gets smaller and smaller…and it’s great to create a new circle of friends to maintain your sense of balance, sense of community and it’s hugely important to your own self-worth as well.
“I get heaps out of it (OM:NI), I love seeing older men, without beer, without talking politics or religion, just having a good time and sharing our thoughts.”
The OM:NI group at Pakenham is certainly an eclectic group, with retirees ranging from a builder, to defence force worker, manager of a tenpin bowling centre, an educator, sheet metal worker, courier and diesel mechanic… all coming together to forge a strong bond.
Ken McMaster has been involved in the OM:NI group for just over a decade, and now as a facilitator of the meetings gets great satisfaction from his role. McMaster is also keen to see the OM:NI program bounce back to it’s pre-Covid vibrance, so more men over 60 can share the experience as well.
“I get a great feeling of satisfaction by seeing the positive impact OM:NI has on guys and I get a great kick out of new guys coming through the door and being able to share their experiences,” McMaster said.
“I remember my first meeting, I didn’t quite know what to make of it, but I was very quickly made to feel comfortable and welcomed by a very friendly group of guys.
“I left work, retired, filled in 12 months of my time, but then I was a bit lost. “OM:NI was recommended by a friend and I’ve been a member for 11 years now.”
The devastating impact of Covid saw OM:NI sessions cease, with McMaster and a small group of like-minded people deciding to get things back up and running with a bounceback meeting on May 11 this year.
But due to the lingering impact of Covid – mainly reduced confidence in attending social gatherings – the numbers at OM:NI have certainly dropped away.
“Dealing with Covid is still tough for many people because there’s an anxiety that goes with the aftermath of the lockdown,” McMaster said.
“We need to get past that and get our confidence levels back.
“We just want to get things going again.
“But getting confidence back in people is the biggest battle we have…across the 26 OM:NI groups in the metropolitan area, contact people are reporting the same things.
“We want to encourage people to come back.
“We’re a lot safer now, knowing what we know and being immunised, than what we were before we knew nothing at all.
“Vaccinations and knowing a lot more about Covid should have a positive impact on everyone.”
A typical OM:NI session involves a friendly welcome as participants arrive, followed by a run-through of announcements from COTA – OM:NI’s parent body – before the discussion moves in an orderly fashion around the room.
Each participant provides their thoughts and ideas, before a coffee break proceeds the final business of the day.
“We have a pre-selected subject that everyone knows about,” McMaster said.
“We all have our say and everyone is given the opportunity to put their thoughts forward.
“One of the great things about OM:NI is that things are confidential and there is a great respect for each other within the group.”
Each member of OM:NI enjoys their experience greatly.
Regular attendee John Garland just simply enjoys the company.
“I really enjoy the variety of people that you meet and learning about the life skills and experience that other people have got,” he said.
“I’m just amazed at what people have done.
“If only industry grabbed hold of guys like this, they would be so much better off.
“I had retired, was looking to fill my life up, I dawdled along and have enjoyed every moment since.”
For long-time member Brian Regan, building friendships is the top priority.
“OM:NI goes back 15 years and I’ve been here for 14,” Regan said.
“I saw an ad in the paper for a men’s discussion group and that’s how it started for me.
“I had retired at 57 and was looking for something new…I really enjoy it and the number one thing for me is friendship, we help each other.
“If I want help, I get help, if others want help, they get help, that’s what we do here.”
Darren Adams and Barry McClease also spoke of the satisfaction they get from beinginvolved in such a tight knit and respectful group of men.
And it’s not just Pakenham where men from around our region are getting together to bring some knowledge and laughter to each other’s lives, with several OM:NI groups available to men in the district.
Ken McMaster (0419 574 865) is the contact for day or night sessions at Pakenham, while for Beaconsfield its John (0402 206 689), Berwick; Jim (0408 335 130), Cranbourne East; Hope (5996 3257) and Narre Warren; John (0431 844 833).
People interested in OM:NI can also obtain more details by calling COTA Victoria on 1300 13 50 90 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting the OM:NI Men pages on this website