Embracing friendship across generations

Intergenerational programs form part of the beating heart of many of our Opal care homes. While the age groups involved span the spectrum from babies and pre-schoolers to school and university students, the one thing in common is the tremendous benefit that all participants receive, regardless of age.

STEPS - Seniors & Teen Empathy Program

Opal Annandale and International Grammar School (IGS), located in the nearby suburb of Ultimo, are currently participating in the trial of a unique intergenerational program called Seniors & Teens Empathy Program (STEP), which is based around the principle of story-sharing. Passionate program designer, Sam Heron, describes herself as a facilitator of stories. Through the program, she seeks to connect participants across generations to help them explore, share and examine their stories. The aim is to foster empathy, promote a sense of community, increase resilience and wellbeing and help encourage inspired and soulful lives across generations.

IGS Head of Academic Care, Margaret Borger, says the program fits well with the school’s core values of connectedness, diversity, authenticity, personal achievement and vibrancy and with the IGS motto, Unity through Diversity. She says, “The children are so keen to visit their new friends every week and I’ve seen such maturity in their interactions and genuine connections being formed.”

The Benefits to both Residents and Students

Opal Lifestyle Coordinator, Kathleen Teaupa, is enthusiastic about the program’s benefits for our residents. She shares, “The anticipation and excitement among our residents before the students arrive is electric and the buzz lasts for days as everyone discusses the latest session and then looks forward to the next.” Speaking with both elders and teens it’s clear that their experiences really back that sentiment. IGS student, Tasch, who is paired with Gary, was surprised that they have such a similar taste in music. She shares, “I really missed Gary during the school holidays and was so happy to come back and catch up on what he’d been up to. We both love music but I think I might be able to update his collection a bit.” The pair went on to do well in the music quiz that day – helping each other with questions closer to their own eras and learning a thing or two about each other in the process.

Over the past weeks, Rory and Betty have also come to know each other well. Rory shares that he’s amazed that Betty travelled all the way to Australia on a ship, just 12 days after marrying her husband. He says, “It was such a brave thing to do. I can’t imagine leaving my family behind and travelling to the other side of the world." Of her new young friend, Betty says she loves chatting with Rory and his energy gives a spark to her day.

Everyone looks forward with mixed feelings for the final day of the program when the teens will present a tribute to their elder, such as a poem, painting or even a song. Given the bonds that have been formed so far, it seems certain that the final day of the program won’t be the end of these special friendships.