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Tech-savvy seniors share their stories

A Victorian provider has helped its residents learn about technology and share their stories through a program which is bringing generations together and creating jobs for young people. 

Riley Gentle (22) shows 89-year-old Jane Lotheringer how to use an iPad
Riley Gentle (22) shows 89-year-old Jane Lotheringer how to use an iPad

Tech, Tea & Tales is an initiative delivered by the social enterprises Lively and Humankind Enterprises. Lively aims to connect the generations by creating meaningful employment for young jobseekers and increase the connectedness and inclusion of older people while Humankind Enterprises uses storytelling to help build and connect communities.

The success of its pop-up story-sharing and technology help events around Melbourne last year led to the enterprises contacting Jewish Care, which agreed to run a 6-week pilot program where two young people worked with residents in its Montefiore Homes Community Residence.

“The young women selected were extraordinary,” explains Jacinta Jarutis Montefiore Homes Community Residence Lifestyle Coordinator. “Their interaction with residents has been wonderful, and their meetings bought great focus to the week for them.”

Some residents chose the story-telling aspect of the program so they could have their experiences recorded for their family or wider community, while others just wanted to learn how to use technology such as iPads. 

“One resident was very computer savvy and only wanted assistance in helping him finish off his archiving project,” she says. “Residents loved engaging on a one to one level.”

Ms Jarutis says long term planning and preparation was also an important part of the project, as was monitoring the project to ensure it was running smoothly for each person.

“By week 3, some of the sessions were a bit long, or residents were tired in the afternoon so we adjusted sessions according to the person’s need,” she explains.

She says the 6-week pilot was a very positive experience. “The iPad connectivity generated a lot of excitement and they were keen to learn more.”

Jewish Care resident Mila Khmelnitsky, with Natalie Gelfand, telling her story

Anna Donaldson, Lively Founder and Chief Executive Officer says it’s been great to see the connections older people make with their grandchildren on Facebook or Skype. 

“They’re also finding music and listening to songs they hadn’t heard for years,” she says. "One lady who was made volunteer of the year by Jewish Care saw some articles had been written about her online; she was pretty chuffed and said oh I’m famous.” 

As well as older people benefiting from having someone listen to them as they tell their story, Sophie Weldon, Humankind Enterprises Managing Director points out the young person is benefiting and learning from the older person’s experiences, particularly in this care setting where stories of the war and Jewish community were being told.

Plus, she highlights the initiative is giving young people a taste of the industry. “There is a horrible narrative around ageing which exists and young people don’t have much interaction with older people and often only get the negative aspects of been a burden,” she says. “We are showing the young people there is a spectrum of work in aged care.”

Feedback from the young employees has been very positive. “I think I learnt that you can really take life in whatever direction you want. Sometimes it feels like you have to study, work, have kids, retire and then die. But the conversations I had with older people made me see that life is so exciting and you can do what you want!” says one.

“I used to think that old people weren’t very accepting. But I found the people I worked with to be extremely respectful and open-minded,” says another.

One young employee says it’s the most rewarding job you could ask for.

With Golden Plains Shire Council currently piloting the initiative, Ms Donaldson and Ms Weldon are keen to roll the program out further and work with more organisations across Australia.

And there is no shortage of applicants. Tech, Tea & Tales has attracted 270 applicants for the 28 paid jobs which have been available through its programs. 

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