I Wish I’d Asked is a program of the Rotary Club of Shepparton South. This intergenerational initiative was co-founded by the club and Eva Gruen and Danny Finley, who are social entrepreneurs from La Trobe University Accelerator Program 2018.
Eva and Danny wanted to create a program that would capture the stories of our older generations as well as tackle the growing problem of loneliness and depression in our communities. They chose Shepparton to launch their pilot program and teamed up with the Rotary Club of Shepparton South, which could connect them to local schools, aged care facilities and the RSL. The club applied for a grant from the Victorian Government’s ‘Pick My Project’ scheme and received over $62,000.
After seeing the statistics on loneliness in Australia, the Shepparton community strongly supported the project.
“We started the project based on the frightening statistics that 40 per cent of residents in aged care never get a visitor and 70 per cent experience loneliness,” said club member David Earle.
I Wish I’d Asked launched 16 different activities to connect the high school ‘apprentices’ with the ‘silver warriors’ in aged care. Many of the conversations were recorded to create oral histories. Activities ranged from cooking classes to internet café sessions, karaoke, and conversations with RSL veterans.
“We had about 20 students and a dozen war veterans, so we’d break them up into groups and they’d talk about their experiences,” David said. “The outcomes of these kinds of activities are multi-layered. The apprentices established a deeper understanding of the devastating effects of war on its participants, while some veterans grew more confidence in telling their story.”
Although the program was initially designed to alleviate loneliness in seniors, it became apparent that many of the students involved were also experiencing loneliness. According to a survey done prior to the program, 64 per cent of the students reported feeling they lacked someone to talk to either some of the time or often.
Reversing the mentor model, the internet café activity allowed apprentices to share their technology skills with the silver warriors. The students’ teachers discovered that previously withdrawn students became visibly more confident after having the opportunity to share their knowledge with the seniors.
The internet café was a hit with the older generation as well. One 91-year-old gentleman loved the program so much he purchased a new iPad, which he now uses for emails. He also learnt to use Pinterest, a visual discovery engine for finding new ideas and interests.
“The outcomes of these kinds of activities are multi-layered. The apprentices established a deeper understanding of the devastating effects of war on its participants, while some veterans grew more confidence in telling their story.”
A large portion of the Pick My Project funding contributed to the program’s website (www.iwishidasked.com.au), which serves as a video, image and audio library for the many activities offered by the project. Moreover, the website contains an extensive list of resources available to schools and other organisations looking to connect generations.
It is clear the Shepparton community has experienced lasting benefits through this program. However, for the organisers, the Shepparton program is just the beginning.
“We now see Rotary pushing the project to other communities through our network,” David said.
The club has registered a business name, ‘Gen Connection’, which will enable the sustainable program to be used throughout Australia.