Fostering relationships between children and grandparents or other elderly people is crucially important for our society, says Pope Francis – a teaching that the youngsters attending the Ambrose School Age Care service at Our Lady of the Way (OLOW) in Emu Plains couldn’t agree with more.
Apart from spending time with their own grandparents, some of the children attending the OLOW after-school care have been involved in a program where they visit residents in the Edinglassie residential aged care facility just up the street.
Ruth Apelu, acting Service Coordinator, says the program, which operates when COVID-safe visiting regulations allow, delivers a range of benefits for both the children and seniors.
“It’s been an important way of fostering the connection between children and older people,” she says. “They’ve learnt so much from it, in terms of values like respect and compassion.”
Ruth says the program has also helped the children to understand some of the challenges of older age, including memory loss.
“These things provide an educational opportunity to teach the children that the elderly residents are not necessarily sick, they are just older and sometimes their memory might not work as well as younger people. Children are resilient and curious, and they ask lots of questions. Learning about this helps them develop empathy and caring for others.”
Kate Easthope, the OLOW Service Coordinator, currently on parental leave, was an instrumental part of developing the program.
“I was part of a Vinnies group in Emu Plains and we had a friendship group there, which started going to Edinglassie to visit and I noticed there were some elderly people there who had no visitors, or very infrequent visitors,” she says.
“So, I thought it would be great to have some kids come down of an afternoon and play games, do craft activities and just hang out with the elderly residents.”
“It’s great. It creates this wonderful intergenerational connection,” she says.
Kate says the elderly residents also benefit from the visits.
“It helps them build on their sense of self-worth. For residents who don’t receive many visitors, they know that at least once a week, the kids come and visit. They feel they are still beneficial to society and can still contribute by passing on some of the lessons they’ve learnt in their life,” she says.
“Their whole face lights up for that hour they spend together.”
During the pandemic, Ruth says the children have been keeping in contact with the Edinglassie residents by writing letters and cards and sending cookies and hampers.
In January 2021, Pope Francis announced the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, to be celebrated each year on the fourth Sunday of July, coinciding with the feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s parents and Jesus’ grandparents, Saints Joachim and Anne.
The theme for this year’s World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly is: “In old age they will still bear fruit” (Psalms 92:15).
“I have chosen this theme for the Second World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, to be held on 24 July 2022, to promote dialogue among the generations, especially between grandparents and grandchildren,” the Pope said.
Paul Lowe, grandfather to six-year-old Kathryn who attends the Ambrose service at OLOW, says this inter-generational dialogue is a product of spending time together.
“I’ve got seven grandchildren from age 14 down, and I spend time with all of them,” he says. “Over the years, I’ve picked them up from school or looked after them at home when their parents work.
“Kate and her mother, my daughter, live with us, so we spend a lot of time together.
“It’s good for all of us. I lost my wife over eight years ago, and thanks to the love my wife fostered, we have a very strong family and we enjoy spending time together.
“When we’re together they get to know a bit of what my lifestyle is like at 73 and I learn from them too. They’ve got plenty of energy and enthusiasm which is good to be a part of. They know I don’t molly-coddle them, but sometimes of course I do spoil them, like all grandparents.
“I get such a kick out of them. Each generation has got something to teach the others and I know I share my strong values and thoughts on things with them.”
Ambrose® early years education and school age care services are run by Catholic Diocese of Parramatta Services Limited, an agency of the Diocese of Parramatta. To find a service near you go to ambrose.org.au.
Debra Vermeer is a freelance writer and contributor to the Catholic Outlook Magazine.
This article was originally published in the 2022 Ordinary Time | Winter 2022 edition of the Catholic Outlook Magazine. You can pick up your copy of the magazine in parishes, schools and offices across the Diocese of Parramatta now or you can read the digital version here.