Tackling Loneliness & Depression

‘Silver warriors’ and high school students team up

AN INTERGENERATIONAL program aimed at reducing loneliness and depression in older people has been piloted in Shepparton.

TECH TALK: Shepparton Villages Tarcoola resident Verna Ritchie gets some social media tips from Wanganui VCAL Year 12 student Archie Goossenaerts.

Melbourne couple Danny Finlay and Eva Gruen were inspired to start the I Wish I'd Asked program – bringing together older residents and secondary school students – in November 2017.

The pair got together with David Earle from the Rotary Club of Shepparton South to team residents from Shepparton Villages with students from Wanganui Park Secondary College.

The program aims to ease loneliness and depression through conversation, skill-sharing activities and the exchange of life experiences, with students and “silver warriors” meeting up on a weekly basis.

Activities include dancing, karaoke, computer assistance and, through the RSL, Vietnam veterans sharing experiences with students, which relates to their history curriculum.

Barbara Wheelhouse, 81, joined four other women and one man from Shepparton Villages who met with six students to stage a dance evening.

“It was quite a challenge. The students are very talented and we had a wonderful dance teacher who involved us all,” Barbara said.

“On Thursdays we join the computer group at the school, taking our own devices and learning lots of things about phones and iPads. The kids are very switched on and patient with us.

“It’s so rewarding to have the contact. They question us about life when we went to school – we talk about all sorts of things. Seeing the children taking control and getting confidence is wonderful. It’s very worthwhile – positive for me and the students.”

Shepparton Villages’ Jo Breen said mixing school students and residents isn’t new, but this program takes it to a new level.

“We have more than 300 people in independent living units and similar numbers in residential care,” she said. “This connection with the community really brightens the day for everyone involved.

“One lady told us how a Wanganui Park student spotted the logo on a bus one weekend, and made a point of coming to say hello to the residents.”

“The dance program was fantastic. Watching residents dancing with the students was magical. The relationships go beyond the program. ”

Ex-teacher and co-founder Ms Gruen said people are often siloed these days and the program was about community building.

“I never realised how excited I’d get about all this,” she said. “Older people understand the importance of patience and tolerance, and seeing the kids and residents finding things in common is thrilling.

“Some teachers comment on how quiet some students are in class, but they stand up and speak in front of the silver warriors with confidence. They’re not like that with their peers.

“One boy has always wanted to be an actor but since participating in the program is now set on a career in aged care.”

Student dance participant Hamish, 16, said: “It’s not only a good experience, but it’s also an amazing adventure and has and will be one of the greatest experiences in my life.”

Macy Cox, 15, said she enjoyed learning “from all the silver warriors”.

And 15-year-old Nathan said the project made him realise “the social gap between young people and the elderly, is not as big as society makes it out to be. There is so much we can learn from one another.”