As Sylvia Evans navigates the grief of losing three of four children in 29 years, a new program connecting seniors and four-year-olds is changing her life.
“My heart was broken many times but from that very first day at Moving Moments my life changed,” the 82-year-old said.
“The children don’t know how much they are healing my broken heart.”
Moving Moments is the inspiration of Tracey Ellaway from the Immanuel Early Learning Centre (ELC) at Buderim on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.
The intergenerational program connects seniors — or the VIPs as they’re known — with four-year-olds at local childcare centres on a regular basis.
Amid the paint tables, rocking chairs and time in nature they engage, create, play — and laugh.
Hundreds of connections have been formed between seniors and young people since Moving Moments began at Buderim and Gympie in 2019.
But many more relationships are about to be formed after a federal government grant enabled the program to expand to Caloundra, Hervey Bay and Biloela.
Lutheran Services runs the program which is open to anyone in the community from 65 years of age — or 55 years of age for First Nations seniors — and includes transport for those who need assistance.
Carmel Freeman oversees Moving Moments at each location.
She says Griffith University is collecting data on the program but already the benefits are proving to be mutual between the VIPs and children.
“One has actually adopted one of our VIPs as their grandma because they’re so removed from their family and the connections. This little one who was three, is now six, and our VIP actually goes still to that school and connects with that child.”
Hervey Bay coordinator Sharon Pringle said the relationship one of their VIPs had developed with a child has even extended to the wider family.
“The parents of this little boy have contacted our VIP to ask if she would attend this [parent’s day] today to represent them as they could not attend due to work commitments.
“They have also invited her into the family to attend their son’s birthday party. Our VIP has said how honoured and extremely happy she feels.”
The VIPs say the benefit of spending time with four-year-olds ripples beyond their physical hours together.
“I’m in my 80s and I never thought at my age I’d be having so much fun.” — Mary Engel, Caloundra VIP
“I have made lovely friends in the group … and this group is of ladies around my age. I’m very keen to be able to start going into childcare centres to work with children. I think it is a wonderful program bringing two generations together.” — Hervey Bay VIP
“What a busy day I’ve had. I’ve spent time in the block house built by Isaac. I’ve been driven to the movies to see Paw Patrol. I’ve been a ghost, a butterfly … these little people are absolute spirit lifters.” — Judy Kavanagh, Buderim VIP
“It gives me a chance to get out and away from our four walls and depressing TV … it also gets us moving as the children sing and dance to music.” — Glenyce Hartwig, Gympie VIP
COVID lockdowns no barrier
The program has continued over the past 18 months despite various COVID-19 lockdowns.
In fact, Ms Freeman said lockdown restrictions had been the catalyst for rolling out new technology to the VIPs.
“Because we didn’t want them to feel isolated again, we went out with iPads and gave lessons,” she said.
“They were able to interconnect with people that they’ve built relationships with and friendships, but also they were able to interconnect with not going into the classrooms.”
Glenyce Hartwig, whose sister Doris encouraged her to join Moving Moments, attended her first session with the children via Zoom.
“We were able to hear and see the children and other friends from Zion [Retirement Village] … it also gave Doris and I a chance to have a chat and a cuppa.”
For Sylvia Evans the new technology allowed her to connect with overseas grandchildren and great-grandchildren during the pandemic.
“Both the children at the school and my loved ones in New Zealand, their patience was exceptional with us ladies, we learned a new skill.”
Ms Evans says “these little humans” bring so much joy.
“I particularly enjoy it when they ask for my help or simply slip their little, warm hands into mine. Magic!