Rain knew little about institutionalised aged care before he migrated to Australia. “When I was small I used to walk past an aged care place, but I never had any idea what went on in there,” he says. “Traditionally, people looked after their own elderly relatives. It was their responsibility.” Rain is a careful and compassionate student who embraced the idea of becoming a Y Challenge volunteer at Southern Cross Aged Care. Rain craved the interaction with the elderly but the work has not been without its challenges.

“Often they don’t speak or they speak in a confused way,” he says.

“Sometimes they try to communicate in other ways. There was one elderly man who would pat me on my face cheek as soon as I arrived.”

Nick selected the Y Challenge elective because it was practical and something different. Nick had some recent experience of aged care when his grandfather became frail.

“It became too difficult and dangerous for the family to keep him at home,” he says. “My grandfather had a fall and after that the family realised he couldn’t stay home alone.”

He knows that the residents crave entertainment and he is ready with games such as Scrabble and Snakes and Ladders.

With a senior volunteer who has been visiting the aged care centre for the last 20 years, the boys read stories from the war on ANZAC Day, while another volunteer played piano tunes from that period of history. Leisure program coordinator Vicky sees the volunteering at Southern Cross Aged care as benefitting both sides of the equation.

“There is a wonderful buzz in the centre when the young volunteers arrive,” she says.

“At the same time, there is a benefit for the young people. It’s an important eye opener for the students.

“The other benefit of this sort of experience is that it puts the focus on young people’s verbal and social skills. Young people spend so much time engaging with technology that they don’t have as many opportunities as in the past, to develop those equally important skills.”

Rain and Nick have very different future careers in mind. Nick is eyeing off a career in construction while Rain is preparing to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a mechanical engineer, designing equipment such as loaders and tractors.

The William Ruthven Secondary College students’ work at Southern Cross Aged Care is helping these boys to develop intergenerational communication skills and the knowledge of their community that will help them to become informed and active citizens.

– Lillian Leptos