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Bringing generations together

When Rebecca Broadbent started taking her young children to visit rest home residents, she never imagined the positive impact it would have on them.

Rebecca

I have three boys aged nine, seven and four and it is really important to me that they learn to give back to other people, care about their community and feel connected to others. I grew up with a mum who did a lot of volunteering and I have always volunteered.

In July 2017 I was driving from Auckland home to Cambridge by myself. There was lots of yucky stuff in the news at the time and I felt overwhelmed by it all. I wanted to encourage families to volunteer together, to help strengthen families and also to enhance their resilience. I set up a charitable trust, Act of Kindness, to work with the elderly, the environment and people in need. Organising rest home visits to bring together children and the elderly was my first project.

My boys are very loud and quite crazy so I thought it would either be wonderful — or not. I found a rest home that was really keen to have us and I took along a few friends with young children and some balloons and bubbles, because they tend to be great for all ages.

At one point I looked over at a lovely resident who was 100 and he was kind of shaking and I was worried. I got closer and saw that he was shaking with laughter because my boys were having a paper plane competition, throwing paper planes from one end of the lounge to the other. It was beautiful.

From that day on I just let the kids get on with it. It works perfectly; I don’t know why but it just seems to work. We have a lot of residents who don’t get a lot of visitors and it’s a delight to bring that joy to them. I thought it would teach my boys tolerance and patience, but it has changed me more than I thought it would.

In two years, we have done 55 visits to five rest homes in the Cambridge area. My four-year-old has been to most of them with me and has an incredible relationship with a lot of the residents. All my boys have their favourites.

One time a man took his walker to his room and came back with a light-up fidget spinner and started doing tricks and the kids thought he was so cool! After each visit, they get back in the car and say, ‘That was really fun.’

Tracy Fairhall, activities coordinator Raeburn Lifecare in Cambridge

For us it was a fantastic idea to have preschool children and babies visit, and the mums too — they are amazing. The residents look forward to it. They will say to me, when are the babies coming in?

Rebecca brings a group in once a month. We’ll gather residents from the hospital, rest home and dementia unit together in one lounge area to play games with the children using pool noodles and balloons. They love it. It sparks communication, interaction and mobility.

There are some who might have been a bit sad and down, and they thrive when the children visit. Some residents might not have moved their arms for quite a while and you look over and there they are catching a balloon or pushing a balloon away, or they are reaching out to take a little picture that a child has drawn for them. Some may suddenly start to say something when they may not have spoken for a while.

We had a little boy, not quite two, who handed his drawing to one of our residents and she held onto that for the rest of the day and made sure to put it in her room as something special to remember from the day.

The young children, they aren’t afraid to go over to the residents and just stand there and hand them something or talk. A lot of adults might be standoffish to accept what is happening with the residents, but with the children there is no judgement, they take them as they are.