Teens engage with older residents putting the focus on the importance of intergenerational activities…

Thomas Millard and Esther Friend

Interaction between four-year-olds and seniors in residential care has been in the spotlight in recent months, but what about the impact of fourteen-year-olds on the elderly? 

While the ABC documentary Old People’s Home For 4 Year Olds highlighted the positive impact of pint-sized visitors, at Baptistcare’s Gracewood Residential Care in Salter Point it is a group of teenage boys who are bringing the smiles and laughter as two generations swap stories and share life lessons. 

Belinda Mele, Therapy and Leisure Partner at Baptistcare Gracewood, says the weekly visits by students from neighbouring Aquinas College bring tangible benefits for young and old. 

“For some of our residents it’s a reminder of the times they had with their own children. 

For others it’s simply a great way to socialise with the local community,” Ms Mele said.

Each Tuesday after school the group of Year 9 students from Aquinas College visit Baptistcare Gracewood to spend time playing games and quizzing residents on everything from the rules of Scrabble to what school was like in the 1940s and ’50s. 

“The continuity of having the same students come each week over several months has provided the opportunity for bonds and relationships to develop, which has become an important part of the process,” Ms Mele said. 

“All of the residents have greatly benefited from these valuable intergenerational sessions. It’s lovely to see the smiles on the residents’ faces when they see the students and I never have to ask twice if they want to participate.” 

The students, aged 13 and 14, are good at adapting activities to suit the seniors they spend time with, from playing games such as Scrabble or Snakes and Ladders, to chatting about their respective school days and going through old photo albums. 

Paul Rich, Director of Service Learning (Middle School) at Aquinas College, said the boys brought a cheeky sense of fun to the afternoon visits. 

“We’ve found this age really gels with the residents,” Mr Rich said. 

“If they’re playing Scrabble, the rule book will often come out. The residents are pretty strict on teaching the boys the rules! 

“They also love to know what the boys are doing these days in terms of the games they play and are always full of advice. One resident would regularly sit the boys down and tell them how they needed to study hard and work hard and be the best they can be.” 

Many of the students have built such strong relationships with the Baptistcare Gracehaven residents that they go back for a second term. 

“It’s not about completing the hours or getting an award, they just enjoy it,” Mr Rich said. 

“It’s fun and they get a lot out of it. The experience of community service definitely makes for a more balanced person.” 

Aquinas College’s long-standing relationship with Baptistcare Gracewood began 15 years ago. A commitment to community service is embedded in the school’s ethos. 

Each year, a number of residents from Baptistcare Gracewood are special guests at the college’s Founder’s Day celebrations.