Setting Young People Free to Serve

Howard Webb for the LYN Network

14 May 2010

Setting Young People Free to Serve


Young people dream of making the world a better place, and when community service is part of their school curriculum they get the chance to do something practical to make this dream come true.

Joan__Claudia.jpgJoan Sloman, 95 and Claudia Gibb, 16

St. Kentigern's College in Auckland offers an International Baccalaureate diploma programme for years 12 and 13 which includes a service component. Mark Robinson is employed by the college as their Community Initiatives Organizer. Mark has helped initiate a number of great projects into the community, such as reading programmes at local primary schools and tutoring for Dingwall Trust, which caters for children and young people who are in need of care and protection away from home.
When Mark put his head together with Anne Overton, Community Mission Liaison for Presbyterian Support Northern, they came up with the wonderful idea of connecting across the generations – of linking students from St. Kentigern's with clients from the Presbyterian Support Northern's 'Enliven' programme.
'Enliven' is for anyone over 65 who needs assistance to be able to stay in their own homes for as long as possible. Clients may have medical issues, or may need assistance in showering, preparing a meal or cleaning their house. 'Enliven' has over 2000 clients on their books, and the value of the service rendered by the programme is underscored by the funding they receive from the District Health Board.
“A lot of elderly people are lonely and socially isolated,” explains Anne. “They can't get out much, and often can no longer drive. Sometimes the only person who comes to visit is their 'Enliven' key support worker. Many have wonderful caring wider families, but what if their family now lives overseas? It's a real problem.”

Joan__Claudia_023.jpgClaudia admires Joan's garden

This is where the volunteer students from St. Kentigern's come in – as regular visitors and companions to the elderly, for one hour a week for a year.
“We did this very professionally,” says Anne. “We contacted our clients in certain areas, and tried to match interests with the student volunteer. I would then take the student to go and meet them. Both the student and client signed guidelines, and the students have been instructed about what to do in an emergency.”
It is not only the Baccalaureate students who want to serve; a number of students doing NCEA have volunteered for this programme too. 30 students have been matched and the results have been life-changing for both students and the folk they visit.
Anne tells of 16-year-old Claudia Gibb matched to Joan Sloman, a remarkable woman of 95 – a 'snappy dresser' who loves her vegetable garden and still drives her car. Sadly for Joan, many of her friends are no longer around and she admits that sometimes the afternoons can become a bit lonely. “I thought the idea of having a young person come to visit was very nice indeed”, says Joan.

While the relationship is just getting started, Joan and Claudia have already found some common ground. Joan has agreed to teach Claudia a 19th century French card game called Bezique which Claudia finds very interesting. Claudia is finding her visits with Joan so enjoyable that she's told all her friends about it and they all want to come and visit Joan too. “Soon I'll have a house full of teenagers!” Joan laughs.
Anne has plans for a sumptuous afternoon tea at St. Kentigern's in term three, for everyone involved in the project. She anticipates using the school vans to bring the clients to the school, where she hopes she will be able to connect them not only to the volunteer students that have served them all year, but to their parents and wider families also.
“It would be fantastic for everyone to hear the stories coming out of the project, and to provide the opportunity for family connections with these elderly folk. At very least it would be an opportunity for our 'Enliven' clients who have been part of this project to enjoy a memorable outing and meet other like-minded people who are in a similar situation to themselves.”
Anne has set this project up as a model and is happy to pass it on to anyone who is thinking of doing something similar. You can contact Anne Overton by clicking here.
A further four students from St. Kentigern's College have been matched with clients of 'Coactive', Presbyterian Support Northern's programme which supports disabled people.  These students have been matched with children or teens, and Anne reports that this arrangement is working well.