The ABC TV show Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds has been tugging at people’s heartstrings around the country.
But what you might not know is that a local facility in the Blacktown area has been doing the exact same thing for over 10 years.
Once a week, children from the Holy Family Services Long Day Care and Preschool in Marayong, walk a few metres down the driveway to interact and play with residents at the service’s Brother Albert’s Home Residential Aged Care facility.
“Whenever we tell the kids that we are going to visit the ‘grandmothers’ and ‘grandfathers’, they get really excited,” Shannan Hodson, General Manager, Children’s Services, told Catholic Outlook.
“They absolutely love it, and it’s amazing to see the reactions of the residents.”
In the pre-pandemic era, the children would go into the aged care facility and would engage and interact with the residents in their communal areas and hall. They would play with blocks, do colouring in, and some would even read a book together.
At the end of play, the children would do a small performance for the residents before heading back to the centre.
Izabela Gendera-Bres, Leisure and Lifestyle Coordinator, Holy Family Services, told Catholic Outlook that there are some residents who seem to settle and calm during the visits.
She recalls one particular meeting when a newer resident, a widowed man who had no children, was sitting in an armchair away from the children and began to cry.
When asked why he was upset, he explained that looking at the children reminded him of his own childhood, and that it was wonderful to look at the children and recall a carefree time.
“It’s wonderful therapy for them,” Izabela said.
Shannan explained that over the last two years, the visits have been improved so as to encourage collaboration between the residents and the children. This, she said, has helped develop friendships and partnerships between the groups.
“I really think that the visits are good for the social and emotional wellbeing of the residents,” Shannan said. “It’s also great for the kids to be interacting with older people as some of them might be without grandparent figures in their lives because they may live overseas.
“The kids learn a lot out of the visits too. They learn about respect, care, empathy and to be gentle and understanding with the residents.”
Once the pandemic hit, the face-to-face visits were stopped as aged care facilities were placed in lockdown and a range of changes to the visitation processes were implemented.
When restrictions eased, the children began paying visits to the residents, albeit through the windows of each house.
Shannan described the literal joy of the residents when the centre started these ‘window visits’ last year. “They were trying to jump through the windows,” she said. “They were so excited.”
Izabela explained that both centres have scheduled Zoom meetings to keep in touch, with the children just this past week asking lots of questions to the residents, such as what their favourite snack was for morning tea.
“Handmade colouring pages, poems and messages written on a coloured sheet and greeting cards all make our residents happy and keep connected during a very trialling time for everyone,” she said.
In his message for the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly in July, Pope Francis wrote that he hoped that during this pandemic time, “every grandfather, every grandmother, every older person, especially those among us who are most alone, receive the visit of an angel.”
Both Izabela and Shannan see these interactions as Godly gifts.
“Seeing the residents’ reactions and their response to the visits, I really think that it is a gift for them, especially for those who may not get very many visitors,” Shannan said.
Izabela added, “I think the Pope said it very beautifully. Children are kind of angels – interacting with them, we can easily move into their word, which is full of peace, happiness, positivity, joy and fun.”
Holy Family Services in Marayong is a ministry of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth.