Students and residents forge strong connections through Memoirs project

What do fifteen residents of the Parish Residential Care homes have in common with thirty senior secondary students (ranging from Year 10 to 12) at Parish colleges?

Together, they have all participated in an intergenerational reminiscence memoir program called Through Our Eyes over the last six months.

Dedicating an afternoon a week during Term 2 (and some of Term 3), thirteen students from St Joseph’s Regional College and seventeen from MacKillop College, worked in groups of two or three to interview and prepare a memoir for each of the resident from Emmaus, Maryknoll and St Agnes’ House who participated in the program.

The Memoirs project, based on Meaningful Ageing Australia’s award-winning program run by Pastoral Care Coordinator, Julie Philpott (Carrington Care), benefits both the residents and the secondary students as they build relationships and mutual understanding through sharing stories and listening over time.

The older generation reflect on their lives, share their experiences and have their stories heard and recorded. The younger generation learn from these life experiences and broaden their communication skills and confidence in having conversations with those older than themselves.

From these conversations the students gather and collate information about the resident’s life, then organise its presentation in a ‘This is your Life’ format using Canva software, which is then published in a one-off hard cover book for residents to keep and share with family, friends and future generations at the conclusion of the project.

The students from St Joseph’s Regional College, presented their residents with their memoirs at an afternoon tea in the Emmaus Café on Tuesday 14 November while the MacKillop College students presented residents with theirs in St Agnes’ House lounge area the following week on 21 November.

Justine Worner from the Pastoral & Spiritual Care team at St Agnes’ Care & Lifestyle oversaw the project, and along with her colleagues and staff at St Agnes’ Site and Emmaus Home, partnered with teachers, Marg Gobius, Abbie Moss and Belinda Hadfield at MacKillop College and Timo Gobius and Karyn Mooney as at St Joseph’s Regional College to ensure positive outcomes were achieved for all involved.

Residential Care Site Manager, Colleen Banks (St Agnes’ Site) and Heather Neubauer (Emmaus), were effusive in their praise for the project saying how wonderful it was to see the joy on the faces of the residents during the weekly visits and at the presentation of the finished books.

The person-centred Memoirs program is similar to one piloted by St Joseph’s Regional College in 2019 and is changing perceptions for everyone involved.

When asked to describe their experience of interviewing an older person about their life, a student from St Joseph’s Regional College said, “Unforgettable, and extremely rewarding. It was a joy getting to know people who I wouldn’t normally get to know and form such a sweet relationship with them. It was like having a new family member, I came to love them, and hearing so much about their lives, their own experiences and struggles was so eye-opening, and it taught me a lot.”

Similarly, a MacKillop student, reflecting on how their perception of older people had changed, commented, ‘Listening to [my resident} talk made me realise that old people can still have fun and

can still have the best talks despite their ages and… how many interests they actually have which gave me a different insight into how cool and different each and every one of these older people are’.

As to the value of the project from a resident perspective, an Emmaus resident commented that the experience “left me feeling more validated and important than I did in the past”.

Another resident, from St Agnes’ House, said they felt ‘overwhelmed by sheer delight [at] the opportunity to spend time with the girls. I’m just left with this overwhelming joy and pleasure to think that they are such wonderful young people doing this and going out into the world like that’.

An amazing array of resident stories and history emerged as the residents and students shared time together.

At Emmaus Home, for example, residents shared stories about being part of the fire rescue team at the Granville Train disaster; working on the Snowy Mountain Scheme and railroads; passions for music, fashion, and design; and the upheaval of migration from England to Australia among other things.

The experiences of residents from St Agnes’ Site (Maryknoll and St Agnes’ House) included stories about family, volunteering, life as a writer and gardener; breeding Koi; prowess in golf, tennis, and other sports; careers as a jockey and a wool classer; and life in Holland.

Students from both colleges participated in an induction session prior to meeting residents and beginning the Memoirs journey, where they learned about the protocols for visiting Maryknoll, St Agnes’ House, and Emmaus; the myths of ageing; and other important aspects of the program such as privacy, confidentiality, and the expected code of conduct.

For some students, who are participating in Duke of Edinburgh Awards, their visitation hours will also contribute to the volunteering component of this award.

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