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Connecting youth and seniors through creativity

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Art classes brought university students and seniors together in an intergenerational program hosted by Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Fairfield. Photo: Marilyn Rodrigues
Art classes brought university students and seniors together in an intergenerational program hosted by Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Fairfield. Photo: Marilyn Rodrigues

The French painter Henri Matisse said creativity takes courage, and that’s certainly true of Eterio Herrera.

After early retirement at IBM when he was in his mid-40s, he worked part-time jobs to support his family. Now at 66 and with an empty nest he’s looking for new challenges.

Last month Terry, as his friends call him, joined art classes which brought university students and seniors together in an intergenerational program hosted by Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Fairfield.

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“You have to smile when you paint, see? It helps you to relax and make these brushstrokes smoother,” Terry explained as he blended colours onto a canvas that was propped up on a school desk.

“I have never done painting in my life before but I’m enjoying this, it’s something fun to do and I’m learning at the same time.”

The Connection Through Creativity program fosters connections between young adults and seniors from multicultural communities who are facing isolation and loneliness especially in the aftermath of the COVID pandemic and restrictions.

The program is run by Sydney-based charity Good Neighbours Australia in partnership with Australian Catholic University with funding from the NSW Government.

It relies on the efficacy of art as a form of therapy and is a way to make friends across cultures and age groups.

Belinda Dona of Good Neighbours said the number of budding artists was growing week by week and many, like Terry, are members of the Philippine Australian Society of Senior Citizens.

“They’re not only getting out of the house, being active and making friends, they’re learning new skills and being an art activity it is easier for them to engage if there is a bit of a language issue,” she said.

Barbara Kozyra, 71, a life-long Our Lady of the Rosary parishioner said she enjoyed spending time with the student volunteers from ACU.

“I think it’s good for them too, having older people to work with,” she said.

“Previously I was working and raising my children. I left work at 67 and this is my free time now. I want to do things that I haven’t done before.”

Primary education student Ashleigh Stacey, who attends St Andrew’s church in Marayong, says she loved spending time with the older artists.

“I like learning from their experiences and getting to know what they have learnt from life.”

Caroline Allen, senior community engagement officer at ACU, said the community engagement opportunity is not only an important part of a student’s degree program, but also key to ACU’s mission in serving the common good and enhancing the dignity and wellbeing of people and communities.

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