GEN FRIENDS: Emma (USC student and genXchange member) & Jack (genXchange member) at Smell the Roses garden and social club, at the Sunshine Coast's Maroochy Neighbourhood Centre.
GEN FRIENDS: Emma (USC student and genXchange member) & Jack (genXchange member) at Smell the Roses garden and social club, at the Sunshine Coast's Maroochy Neighbourhood Centre. Taylah Bergann

Exciting project to connect different generations

A STUDENT'S research project has become an exciting model which education institutions and the aged care industry can use to promote genfriendships.

genXchange is the brainchild of Queenslander Charlotte Mellis who has nurtured the cross-generational collaborative project through the pilot stages and is now driving it, to roll out nationally in 2018.

The program is about connecting people in the community, reducing social isolation and supporting the transfer of wisdom on the one hand, and new skills and new relationships on the other hand.

Her team are developing opportunities for younger and older generations to meet, socialise, teach and learn in group or one-on-one sessions.


On Queensland's Sunshine Coast the local genXchange group coordinators, Sam Wall and Kristen Ottley, said they are bringing local university students and community elders together in a way that gives meaning and purpose for themselves, and gets them involved in the community.

"It gives them (seniors) the opportunity to prove they have so much value and knowledge to give," Sam said.

"We want to create awareness around social isolation and it's a dignified way of sharing wisdom without being derogatory towards any generation," Kristen added.

"Both generations have something to share and we want to get rid of the stigma around old age and redundancy which a western culture seems to give to elders."

Sam and Kristen are working with a group of about 70 seniors and 11 occupational therapy students, who are using their volunteer involvement as practical experience for one of their study units.

Each Tuesday members of this genXchange group meet across various activities - computer classes, Spanish lessons, arts and crafts, walking or participating in community gardening. On a Wednesday its Breaky Club group provide at the Maroochy Neighbourhood Centre meals to the homeless, socially disadvantaged and isolated.

Debra, 63, is a member of the gardening group. She said genXchange is letting her get in touch with the "younger generation".

"I am learning what they want to do and how they feel and see life, and their future," Debra said.

"What I can teach them I will find out along the way."

"We are creating friendships and connections rather than seeing it as a chore that we have to do," Sam, 26, said.

"I have learnt to engage with them. I used to have, like most people, an ageist way of thinking. From this program, it has broken down a heap of barriers for me.

"I am able to have a really authentic conversation, really easily. If that's the best thing I can do is listen and be actively engaged with these people, then that's great.

"I love being able to do that, coming here every Tuesday and treating them the same as my friends and anyone of my generation," Sam added.

"Seniors are wiser people. They look a little bit different, but they are still young at heart. That's the one thing I have really learnt the most," Kristen, 28, chimed in.

Charlotte said genXchange has partnered in Brisbane with Aveo Springfield for a cooking program and creating vertical gardens, in partnership with students from the University of Queensland the University of Southern Queensland.

"There are a lot of younger people who are eager to be involved with this volunteer experience who may not have identified with other volunteer opportunities," Charlotte said.  

Her team are developing a website to centralise the program information, and help people to search and connect within their local area based on skills, interest and potential needs around companionship.

The program will still retain physical hubs in each area it is running so genXchange groups can connect on mass and one-on-one.

"As we roll out we will be partnering with universities and other education providers around Australia who will be access the platform to register their details for students who will be able gain approved credit points for their qualifications based on the partnership with the universities," Charlotte said.

"In exchange for that there is a huge amount of value to be gained by connecting with a genfriend, someone in their community of a different age."

She is also hoping to partner with aged care providers, retirement villages and hospitals to develop a program which suits their community's needs.

To register an interest in genXchange, go to www.genxchange.org.


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