“It’s never too early in the morning for chocolate!” declared school teacher Beth Claydon, as she handed out Easter eggs to people sitting in recliners. This was the cheery start to an early Easter celebration at the Abri Anglicare aged care residence on the Gold Coast. Her girls are a whirlwind of enthusiasm and smiles.
For three years, Beth Claydon has coordinated the twice a term visits from St Hilda’s students from Acacia House. Each visit, 19 girls pile into the bus with a planned activity – usually crafts or singing. Upon disembarking, they weave their way through the main room, seeking out a friend (old or new) to chat to. The aim behind the program, from the school’s perspective, is for the students to give back through their time.
But between visits, the residents are not forgotten by the girls. They fundraise too and on their recent visit, perfect timing meant that the shade sails they had funded were being installed. A Nintendo Wii is among the more interesting donations, and according to Beth, the students love to demonstrate it and get the residents involved where possible.
Year Six student Tahlia Andonakis has been a part of the visiting group three times now. “When we come here we get to have fun with the residents. I like talking to them, it’s good.” She spent time with 99-year-old Anna Van Herk, drawing and talking.
Resident Bill Mulholland enjoyed a long chat with Year Six student Hanna Shrubshall. Over a blank Easter-egg shaped poster, the two talked about how to decorate the egg. Bill happily donned a blue pair of bunny ears for a laugh and after the photos were taken, he joked that he should have taken the ears off for before the camera came out.
At a table nearby, Abri resident Lorraine Holland was deep in conversation with Grace Reggler (Year Five) and Lizzie Kulakova (Year Four).The group decorates their poster with their names and talk continuously until it is time for the girls to return to school.
Judy Nolan works as a diversional therapist at Abri. “When I first started here, St Hilda’s visited but they mostly performed songs. But creating relationships is important; with that we developed two visits per term. The girls have built nice relationships with the residents. We do simple stuff that brings people together.” Craft activities are popular and the large Easter egg posters the residents and students made together in March will be displayed in Abri throughout the Easter season. “They chat about the visit long after the girls are gone. For Easter, we always decorate. We serve hot cross buns, Easter eggs and have concerts. It is a time for families to come and we very much encourage that.”
Judy said the school’s fundraising had impressed Abri staff, residents and their families. When a large tree at Abri had to be removed, parents from the school came to plant trees in pots to make the building look welcoming again. Judy said this type of community-building was beneficial for all involved. “It takes away a bit of the mystery behind aged care,” she said. “At Abri we focus on creating that community.”
According to Jonathan Kemp, Director – Youth, Children’s and Families Ministry at Ministry Education Commission, the Abri-St Hilda’s activity could build and nurture bonds between the generations in other areas in society.
“We need a model where young people are participating fully in the life of the Church, where there is integration into the work of older generations, where young people are involved in recognisably Anglican activities, but where there is still sensitivity to the unique needs of young people,” he said. “Young people visiting and worshipping alongside the elderly is a classic example of this. Usually there is the initial fear of the unknown, but once both groups realise they share common experiences, like Holy Week and Easter, they start thinking about how Easter must look to the other group, and even how they can help them to get more out of it. That way of thinking is exactly what the word ‘mission’ is all about, and there’s no doubt our Church needs more people of all generations thinking that way.”
By Abby Lu