By Rhonda Velkovski and Maureen Lane
Local residents are being called upon to volunteer in local schools as part of a popular intergenerational school volunteering program run by EdConnect Australia.
There are a variety of ways people can get involved from listening to students read, library support, assisting with kitchen garden programs or general classroom support.
In December 2022, students from Altona Primary School made Christmas cards to give to residents at Port Phillip retirement village. In return, the retirement village invited the students to a fun-filled Easter event.
Maureen Lane is an EdConnect volunteer and Port Phillip retirement village resident and she tells us about her experience.
“Retirement is a wonderful thing. There is time to travel, to take classes and develop new skills. To do the exercise class you have been promising yourself you will do one day – when you have the time.
When I retired from work six years ago, I did the usual things – I travelled the world and indulged in my passion for writing and painting. I had time to walk and enjoy nature, but I missed the camaraderie of working with a group of people who all shared a common goal – to be the best they can be at their jobs. There is joy in doing something worthwhile with your days.
When Rhonda from EdConnect visited the Port Phillip Retirement Village where I have lived with my husband David, for the past seven months, I jumped at the chance to volunteer and be involved. I went to the meeting and found that every person there had a life-time of experiences, skills and stories to share and EdConnect offered us the chance to do just that while helping children to learn new skills and to feel valued as individuals.
My first day of assisting the Prep classroom at Altona Primary School I felt a little nervous but was quickly put at ease with a warm welcome. I was able to do the tasks that busy teachers often have to do after school hours. Things like cutting and pasting the children’s work onto colourful frames, sorting maths games, organising resources and helping children read simple books. The children were warm and funny and quite interested to ask me questions like, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” The teachers were all so very grateful. I felt like I was making a difference in my own small way.
This week Grade 2 students visited my retirement village and interacted with the residents there. The residents dressed in their best clothes to greet our little visitors with a smile. For many children, an older person is a scary thing – fairy tales often put the words ‘ugly and old’ together and so there is a stigma to getting old in the minds of some children. Those first tentative moments soon made way for intergenerational shy smiles and laughs and even some interesting questions like the one about my husband; “Is David a bad man? He has a tattoo!” And the question about my tiny gold cross on a chain, “Is that church jewellery?” I answered the question while stifling a laugh. Innocence is a wonderful thing.
For the residents, this was a chance to feel the enthusiasm of youth and share stories of their own youth. It was a time to feel valued. For many children, the day brought memories of grandparents overseas or who have passed. It provided a safe environment where they could ask any question and get an honest or surprisingly funny answer. There were songs and stories and a visit from a very special guest – the Easter Bunny who arrived with a basket full of eggs and bunnies and upstaged us all. As the bunny hopped away we all made plans for more intergenerational sharing because we all have so much to offer each other.“
Maureen Lane is a retired teacher, historian and writer.
For more information about how you can volunteer in a local school, please complete the online application form at www.edconnect.org.au/volunteer, email email@example.com or call 1800 668 550.