Making friends in the Southern Highlands of NSW

Community stories: 20 May 2022

There are many elderly residents living there in aged care in the Southern Highlands in New South Wales who have limited financial support. In fact, the community-owned Harbison Memorial Retirement Village – which provides up to 50% of their residential places to residents who can’t afford to pay for their care and accommodation – receives no government funding for wellbeing, or capacity building programs. 

In 2021, Harbison initiated the Grand Friends Pilot Program, an inter-generational community initiative connecting elderly residents with Kinder to Year 2 students, their families and the wider community. Partway through, the program was suspended due to COVID and a lack of funding. But the Southern Highlands Community Foundation – an organisation fostering local philanthropy to support community needs and initiatives – auspiced a grant application on behalf of Harbison, and received $20,000  through FRRR’s In a Good Place (IAGP) program to complete their pilot.

Through the generous support of CCI Giving, this IAGP grant helped restart Harbison’s pilot program, which concluded in December 2021 following a short suspension. And with benefits for both aged care residents and children alike, the program has now begun to roll out to other local schools.

The weekly program involves Kinder, Year 1 and Year 2 classes hosting their Grand Friends, with everyone participating in structured activities, conversation and a shared morning tea. In between visits, the children write letters, make cards, rock friends and complete activities to prepare for the next Grand Friends visit – Grand Friends become part of the day-to-day discussions and activities in the classroom. Residents reported reduced loneliness and incidences of depression, improved memory, mood, confidence and mobility, and an increased sense of meaning and purpose in their life.. The program also saw evidence that participating children develop empathy, social confidence and language skills.

Harbison resident, Harold Griffin, believes it is a gift to be able to visit his junior class each week.

“I get a thrill out of attending the school visit. The energy and excitement the kids have, created by our group attending their school, is wonderful,“ Harold said.