Throughout 2017 Year 11 students from nearby Mount Carmel College have been going to the centre regularly as part of their Religious Education studies and as a way of connecting with their Catholic identity in the wider community.
Their visits fly in the face of an increasingly sad reality that was brought to national attention by Federal Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt recently. Mr Wyatt told the National Press Club in October that he had heard up to 40 per cent of people in residential aged care ‘have no visitors, 365 days of the year’.
But in Adelaide’s western suburbs it’s a different story.
As part of their ‘Community Connections’ project students visited residents in the Southern Cross Care residential home – and continued to do so even after the program ended.
Some strong friendships were made, with students appreciating the opportunity to learn from a source of ‘living history’.
Chloe Andrews-Green said the visits had been a wonderful way to connect with older people, although she was sad when one of her new friends passed away recently.
“Dorothy was lovely and she used to give me advice about life – like not to smoke – and she’d ask about what I had been doing at school,” Chloe said.
Joan Wilson, 97, said she loved talking with the students and telling them about what it was like when she was growing up. She described the long distances she would walk as there were no cars, and living through the Depression.
“The young people are wonderful. People say they don’t want to get old, but getting old is fine… my life has been so interesting,” she said.
Teacher Jon Cenko said the program had been a great success for students and aged care residents alike.
“A strong part of the learning focus has been about what the young can learn from the elderly,” he said.
“We have also challenged the students to think about societal attitudes towards the elderly and how this may differ in various contexts. We asked our students about what it might be like for the residents as they move into residential care and how it is important for them to remain connected with the community.
“Initially it was a bit confronting for some of them as some of the residents have early onset dementia or are blind or have hearing difficulties, so it taught them about their capabilities of learning.
“There was also a lot about learning empathy,” he added.
Mr Cenko said a highlight of the program was preparing for National Reconciliation Week. The students and residents worked on artwork together, culminating in a morning tea and display at the college, where the residents and students could “celebrate the unity that exists across generations”.
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