One day each month throughout the school year, Grade 5/6 students at Aspen Elementary take their learning experience out of the classroom and into the home. Not any home but a place where 117 residents and seniors reside – The Views at St. Joseph’s General Hospital.
For an afternoon, the main dining area transforms into a centre for education. It is known as the Grandbuddy Program, an intergenerational exchange between student and senior designed to bring mutual benefit to each other.
In September, students are paired with a senior or a resident in The Views who become their Grandbuddy for the duration of the school year. Students also visit with residents in the Transitional Care Unit. During each visit, each pair engage in a variety of activities ranging from baking, reading to arts and crafts and through this unique bond, each learn from the other. Every interaction is a different experience but always shared between the same two in the Grandbuddy relationship.
The Grandbuddy Program was introduced at The Views by Brenda Phillips, director of Lifestyles and Community Programs, in 2000 to promote learning and friendship. It was also designed to open up young minds and attitudes toward elderly in a long-term care setting.
Phillips created the program as a pilot project while working in Dawson Creek. The inspiration she explains came from witnessing first-hand how seniors enjoy being around a younger generation.
“They become more energized, engaged and have a genuine interest in another person. I feel that seniors can give so much to a student and this makes them feel they have a purpose.”
Phillips’ goal with the program has been to break down stereotypical barriers associated with living in long term care. “The students come to realize that our seniors are caring, compassionate people with many stories and life experiences worth learning about,” shares Phillips.
St. Joseph’s Grandbuddy Program fits with a philosophy of care that is widely practiced at St. Joseph’s at The Views. It is known as the Eden Alternative, an approach to care that, among other goals, is geared toward creating a human habitat where life revolves around close and continuing contact with people of all ages. It is one of the 10 guiding principles behind Eden.
Eden Philosophy is also about creating opportunities to give as well as receive care, an antidote to helplessness. The Grandbuddy Program empowers seniors with the realization that their life’s history gives knowledge and wisdom to a generation decades their junior.
“It’s really nice to experience what you can do and share with older people,” shares Sarah Messina, a Grade 6 student in her second year with the program. “They are actually fun to talk to about when they were young and what their story is from when they were my age.”
Sarah and her Grandbuddy continued their regular exchanges throughout last summer while Sarah volunteered at The Views. It isn’t uncommon, Phillips explains, for a graduate of the Grandbuddy Program to return to of St. Joseph’s to be part of the Youth Volunteer Program. For some, this program is a child’s first introduction to seniors living in a care facility.
“Once a youth becomes comfortable within a senior care setting they are more apt to be open to the opportunity to come back and volunteer. Volunteer experiences can later grow into a career in healthcare.”
In one unique case, the Grandbuddy bond never terminated long after the elementary school days came and went. Anne Wilde, senior resident, still receives occasional visits from her buddy Liam, now a university student enrolled in the Nursing Program at UVIC
Phillips hopes that many more residential care facilities and schools in the Valley and throughout BC will embrace intergenerational programming as a vital part of participants’ lives and as a critical component of a school board’s curriculum.
“As students become more comfortable in this setting they will learn about empathy and compassion from these tender interactions with a senior.”