Program connecting Victorian students with elderly residents helps change perceptions

Students and seniors in Greater Bendigo are finally reconnecting in person with weekly visits after nearly two years of online communication.

The Connection is the result of the iGen program, a subject for Grade 11 students at Catherine McAuley College.

This involves students meeting residents of Mercy Health Bethlehem Home for the Aged in Golden Square and is combined with school classes where they write their new friends’ life stories and learn about the industry.

Principal Brian Turner said he was surprised that 120 students signed up for the program this semester.

He said he’s seen positive changes in the way youth in the program communicate, especially those who spend too much time using technology.

“They learn to hold a conversation, to respond, to empathize and to listen with respect,” Mr. Turner explained.

Mr Turner said the program has led to more students showing an interest in working in the paramedic field as a future career.

“Thanks to COVID and the royal commission, there has been a lot of negative news about elderly care,” he said.

“But then they have that experience, and they find it’s entirely different from the judgments they had formed.”

Ruby Robinson has developed a bond with aged care resident Jean McGlashan.(ABC Central VictoriaSarah Lawrence)

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Ruby Robinson’s extended family – including her grandparents – live in the UK and she has little interaction with the elderly.

But her weekly visits to Jean McGlashan, 94, are a highlight for both women.

“I love coming here, getting to know people who have life experience. Jean has funny and amazing stories about his life,” Ruby said.

“I don’t learn anything from her. I just get lots of love and attention,” Ms McGlashan said.

Ruby said she is now considering a career in aged care.

“I thought it was very quiet and not a very fun place. But Jean is having a great time, she has a lot of funny stories, she causes a lot of mischief.”

“My word, I do!” Ms McGlashan added.

teenager and old woman sitting with a cup of tea, talking
Lucy Daley says Ivy Conole changed her perception of elder care.(ABC Central VictoriaSarah Lawrence)

Lucy Daley, 16, said the program has also changed her perception of elderly care.

“Before, elderly care was more like a hospital. It was pretty bad. I like how they have free rein here, loads of activities and a nice place.

Lucy meets 94-year-old Ivy Conole, who also gives her life advice.

“I just want them to be happy. And if they can’t, try something they can do,” Ivy said.

“Sometimes it takes them a while to figure out and figure out what they want to do.

“But I still think it’s good for them to start with having a selection of things they can turn to.”

Teenage boy standing with his arm around Rita, a 94-year-old woman
Ben Reid says Rita Stevenson had a positive impact on his life. (ABC Central VictoriaSarah Lawrence)

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Rita Stevenson, 94, said seeing her student pal Ben Reid was the highlight of her week.

“Sometimes sitting here, we have nothing to do, and we see these students, it makes us smile,” she said.

“We made some great friends. They are like my grandchildren.”

Ben, 17, described the program as “one of the highlights of my life”.

“They have very nice people here, some of the best people I’ve ever met,” Ben said.

“I love going back to my family and telling them about Rita. They saw the impact it had on me.”

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