An (unlikely) friend in need
6 April 2019 at 12:00 pm
When 73-year-old Rose was paired with 14-year-old Dominic as his mentor, she knew she could make a difference in his life. But what she didn’t realise was the difference he would make in her life, or that it would result in an unlikely friendship.
The pair met through an intergenerational mentorship program run by The Benevolent Society (TBS) called Grandparent Connection, where older Australians are paired with teens as mentors, to learn and connect with one another through friendship.
Rose, the primary carer for her husband who has dementia, first bonded with Dominic, who cares for his brother with a disability, over the fact they were both the tallest and shortest people in the program.
“When I first met Dominic, he was very low, and quite depressed,” Rose told Pro Bono News.
“I told him he was very handsome, and he just said he was very tall, and wanted to be shorter, which I responded with, ‘well how about me, I’m very short, and I want to be taller!’ and then after that, we were able to talk a bit more.”
She said she wanted to make the friendship work because she believed she could make a difference to his confidence and happiness.
“I knew he had a soft heart and I wanted him to have confidence to smile and to walk outside,” she said.
Sally Jung, TBS program coordinator, told Pro Bono News they saw great results from the program, and she believed the 20 participants of the program all gained something from it.
“It’s the skills and life experience that the mentors have, which they can pass onto the next generation. Seeing that happen was a highlight for me,” Jung said.
She also said that being a carer could be hard at times, and bringing together two people with such different perspectives on the world was really positive.
“It’s such a beautiful thing to see, because they have such different perspectives in their own caring roles, and not only does it give them emotional support, it was a non-judgemental friendship because they have common ground,” she said.
Rose said that Dominic’s age and wisdom around technology, were also of benefit to her.
“When he’s not busy, he helps me with my computer and the phone, which is really helpful,” she said.
Rose and Dominic took part in a number of activities and outings as part of the program, but continued to stay friends despite the program ending.
Dominic’s mum has driven him to Rose’s house on several occasions and they’ve enjoyed barbeques and other social gatherings.
“I went to his place, I saw his brother and I’ve taken him out for lunch, he’s like my family,” Rose said.
Rose has also seen immense changes in his confidence levels and happiness since the mentoring started.
“He talks to me, he laughs, and he really trusts me. He’s also hanging out with friends, which wasn’t happening before,” she said.
“I think he’s helped me a lot too because I’ve seen the changes in him and I know I’ve done something good.”
While this particular program only ran for the purpose of providing case studies for TBS’ guide on intergenerational carers, Jung hopes to see it picked up and used by other organisations, for any other group of people who could benefit from it.
“We recruited carers because there was a need, but the intergenerational mentoring project can be for anybody who is over 60 or aged between 12 to 18, it’s not exclusive,” she said.
“We hope that this guideline can help organisations and agencies to have their own mentoring sessions.”