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Putting pen to paper for pandemic connections

While text message and email have become the ubiquitous method of choice for communicating, St David’s Neighbourhood Centre has turned to pen and paper as a fresh way of keeping young and old connected during the COVID-19 pandemic. Karen Shapcott—St David’s Neighbourhood Centre Community Connections Coordinator—writes.

St David’s Uniting Church and St David’s Neighbourhood Centre were hosting intergenerational programs long before it became the new buzz word. This community has been supporting both older people and young families for over 30 years.

St David’s Neighbourhood Centre continues this tradition through both the Harmony Club, a government funded social respite program for people over 65, and Stay N Play, which is a unique supported playgroup for young families.

Research has shown that there are significant benefits for both children and older people when they have the opportunity to participate in intergenerational exchanges. There are many positive impacts on physical and mental health such as renewed energy for life and sense of purpose for seniors, and a sense of safety, connection and skill development for young people.

Over the past couple of years, the coordinators of both the Harmony Club and Stay N Play have worked together to bring the participants of these programs together for intergenerational activities. The children from the playgroup regularly visit the older clients for a sing along and dance, they make craft together, and celebrate special occasions such as Easter and Father’s Day. They even enjoyed a combined 99th Birthday celebration!

When this close-knit community was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent restrictions, the staff at St David’s Neighbourhood Centre were faced with the challenge of how to keep this long tradition of connection alive. Older community members are particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of isolation and loneliness. While the rest of the country was looking to technology as an answer to overcome social distancing restrictions, the community of St David’s has taken a more “old school” response: a letter writing project was started to keep the lines of communication open and the broader community has been invited to take part.

The Neighbourhood Centre staff have been able to successfully connect up a number of pen pals, with lovely handwritten letters now flowing thick and fast. While the focus initially was on connecting older and younger people, a number of international students and migrant families have also joined the project, bridging cultural as well as generational divides. Other forms of creative communication are being explored, such as sharing artwork or recipes, to ensure everyone has an opportunity to connect.

St David’s Neighbourhood Centre would love to hear from anyone that would be interested in writing or receiving letters as part of this project. For more details contact the Community Connections Coordinator of 3274 3240 or community@stdavidsnc.org.au

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