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Grandfriends program winning hearts in Morisset

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Eight-year-old Violet Hidalgo says drawing a portrait of her grandfriend Mrs Nott has been one of her favourite activities in the new school program.

Hosting a seniors’ lunch, in which she sang songs and told stories about ancient times, was another special occasion she says she won’t forget.  

Playing the game of memory is always lots of fun, too.

They’re a snapshot of the activities the children at Brightwaters Christian College engage in with members of Morisset Baptist Church as part of the Grandfriends program.

The agenda aims to bridge a generational gap and build healthy relationships between seniors and young people.

Each week the Kindergarten to Year 4 students at the Lake Macquarie school spend one hour with their own “Grandfriend”, talking and sharing stories, playing games, and participating in arts and crafts.

It’s an initiative school principal Tania Anway says manifested from an annual seniors visit to the school.  

“Seniors from the church used to drop in once a year and I think both the children and the visitors would love it,” she stated.

“Some children don’t have access to their grandparents and vice-versa, so this offers both groups a chance to feel connection with another generation.

“The activities are a vehicle for communication and learning about one another.

“And, it’s an effective way to ward off loneliness.”

The program was launched in March but has experienced a few set-backs due to COVID.

“It hasn’t been once a week as we’d hoped,” Ms Anway says.

“We have to keep everyone safe, but even in its infancy I will say that its been more than we’d hoped for.”

For Morisset Baptist Church senior Sue Nott, the Grandfriends sessions are a chance to give back to the next generation.

The retired teacher knows all too well the importance of intergenerational connection.

“We go for the children’s benefit. I hope it makes them feel valuable and important as people,” she told the Newcastle Weekly.

“I came out from England and left my grandparents in the UK. I had surrogate grandparents who were neighbours, so I appreciate the importance of that relationship.

“If I can make one child feel special by spending time with them than that’s wonderful.”

For Violet, Grandfriends is about creating special memories while meeting new friends.

“We played Snakes and Ladders and we played Jenga. We Played Memory,” she said.

“Memory is when we flip over cards, and we remember the cards we see when we flip them.

“So, if we flip Elsa and Anna we flip back over and flip again until we get a match.

“It was very, very fun because we got to talk to [Mrs Nott] while we were playing.

“We would learn about Mrs Nott and she would learn about us.

“I told her I like the colour blue.”

According to the Australian Psychological Society, one in four Australians aged 12 to 89 experience problematic levels of loneliness, with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic playing a role in older Australians feeling lonely and socially isolated.  

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