What generation war? Baby boomers and millennials across NZ share love, happiness and lots of knowledge video

Two-year-old Hunter Hayes with his 'adopted' surrogate grandma - 64-year-old Susan Doak.
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Two-year-old Hunter Hayes with his 'adopted' surrogate grandma - 64-year-old Susan Doak.

Reporter Matt Stewart finds the bright spots among the the fog of inter-generational war where children, young people and the old are co-operating in surprising ways.

From Bill English to Tony Alexander to Nadine Chalmers-Ross, many harsh words have been spoken between the generations this month after the decision to raise the retirement age to 67. 

It had been dubbed a war of the generations, between the baby boomers and millennials.

Victoria University student Isaiah Ratahi with WeVisit companion Lola Davies.
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Victoria University student Isaiah Ratahi with WeVisit companion Lola Davies.

Millennials complained about the prospect of having to pay taxes for longer, about being shut out of the housing market and the burden of their student debt, while the boomers came back saying they faced their own hardships - unimaginably high interest rates and extortionate tax demands. And don't mention the war.

Thank goodness, things aren't as bad as the politicians might wish to make out. 

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Macsen Buxton, 4, with resident Ray Fairest, 74, as part of the Grandfriends programme - a partnership between Taupo's ...
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Macsen Buxton, 4, with resident Ray Fairest, 74, as part of the Grandfriends programme - a partnership between Taupo's St John's Wood Rest Home and Laughton Kindergarten.

SURROGATE GRANDPARENTS

Two oceans separated Jo Hayes from her own parents but it was another void she set out to fill on a bored night in Auckland.

The Hibiscus Coast mum had a brainwave and Surrogate Grandparents began to take shape - a new organisation matching 'adopted' grandparents with families missing their own.

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Chance to get in touch with old roots and reconnect with younger selves

With a roster of about 25 surrogate grandparents and families, Hayes is set to launch the startup in earnest with a crowd-funding campaign on PledgeMe.

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​But for now the poster girl for the organisation is her "adopted granny" - 64-year-old Susan Doak.

​Hayes' family - including son Hunter, 2, and daughter Sophie, 6, got to know Doak through her own grandchild who goes to Sophie's school.

The children know their grandparents in the UK but only see them roughly once every two years so the idea was to fill that void.

"It's really good fun and support for me - it's been great to have someone to lean on and it's good for the kids to have a relationship with someone of the older generation."

Support is the key word but Hayes said having someone they trusted and could rely on was invaluable - as was old-fashioned wisdom. 

"Grandparents also have a lot of skills they can pass on - both practical and life skills."

Doak says she saw a friend who was in need of support and she was able to give the time to be a surrogate grandparent. She plans on teaching Jo and Sophie how to knit.

"Just having someone to spend time with, share worries, and shoulder to cry on as well as joys and successes is so important for mental & emotional well being," Doak said.

Surrogate Grandparents has been recognised as a finalist in the Neighbourly's 2017 AMI Community Grants Neighbourhood awards. 

FROM DISASTER, COMES HOPE

Born from the calamity of the deadly Canterbury quakes, a new movement brought cookies and card games to those in their golden years - but mostly it has built a bridge of friendship across the generations. 

Launched last year by Student Volunteer Army founder Sam Johnson and Dr Tyler Brummer, the one-on-one companion WeVisit scheme pairs the young - of which there are already 300 signed up - and the old to the benefit of both with the aim of mutually boosting vocational skills and life experience while fighting social isolation.

WeVisit was set up with a vision of rekindling the social interactions that flourished in the emotional rubble of the quakes.

Solving the problem of social isolation among the elderly while boosting social connectedness is one of WeVisit's primary goals.

Trusted and trained visitors - mainly aged 20 to 30, and mostly older students and young mums - are paired up with older people to do odd jobs as well as "anything you'd imagine doing with your grandma or granddad - making cookies, playing cards, picking up leaves or pruning roses."

"It's really about doing things together but there's got to be a purpose to it, we focus on a task and how they can help each other - it's all about the odd jobs," Johnson said.

The key is not doing things for the older person, rather doing things with them. 

Fifth year Victoria University student Isaiah Ratahi is a Wellington-based 'WeVisitor'.

Ratahi, 22, first visited Lola Davies, 81, through WeVisit at the suggestion of her grandson.

"The thing I love most is learning things I don't learn in university. With Lola, I learned recently how her family migrated from the UK. It's a completely different world from Upper Hutt where I grew up." 

"Gardening is what I typically help with, but as you can see, Lola's garden is already amazing." 

Ratahi helps find and match students with people looking for help - one of the most common requests is for computer or iPad help, or clearing weeds in the garden.

"The older people we work with love it. We definitely learn a lot from them and it's the best part-time job for us. Much better than the supermarket," Ratahi said. 

MAKING GRANDFRIENDS

A generation raised in the wake of World War II is teaming up with the generation coming of age in the midst of the world-wide web.

The programme is called Grandfriends, and is using the time honoured bond between the young and the old to combat social isolation and form friendships.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said "beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art" and it's in this spirit that Grandfriends thrives.

About two years ago, the programme - a partnership between Taupo's St John's Wood Rest Home and Central Kids Laughton Kindergarten - was set up. 

Every fortnight, eight children walk down to the rest home with two teachers and two parent helpers to share in morning tea, draw pictures, make things in the man cave and generally learn about each other.

The relationship was built up over nearly a decade after frequent visits from the kindergarten to the rest home to perform kapa haka and sing and give gifts at Christmas.

Head teacher Jan Smith said the idea was to provide residents with a regular opportunity to engage with children, sparking genuine relationships like the one between four-year-old Macsen Buxton and 74-year-old Ray Fairest. 

"I find the visits very entertaining - they've made me feel a lot better. I have children of my own and I'm very encouraged by the children - it makes me feel younger than I really am," Fairest said.  

"It's wonderful, I love it. It adds to the old people's lives. I thought the children would be bewildered by all these old people but they're not, they just come up to you and chat," 92-year-old Koa Randell said.

"It's very good. It reminds me of my great grandkids. They don't treat you as if you're too old to have fun. It's great for us to get down to their level and talk about things they'll be interested in in the future," 88-year-old Miriam Moore said.

In the process children boost their knowledge and social and emotional skills while the visits erode the stereotypes of old age and nurture children's empathy.

"They show genuine interest in the residents and look forward to the sessions. Those who don't have elderly role models at home now have relationships where they can learn from the experiences and rich history the residents have to share.  

THE GEEK CAFE

Tamaki College's Geek Cafe is bridging the generational IT gap using the tech-savvy smarts of teenagers to school up older digital immigrants.

Run by students on the east Auckland college campus the cafe kicked off with the goal of providing a "real-life business scenario" for students to showcase their skills.

Operating on Wednesdays during school time so called 'geek gurus' take their digital immigrant charges through their technological paces - for $20 an hour they get instruction on operating digital devices, computers, mobile phones and iPads, as well as tips on how to scan slides and photos and put together online photo albums.

The Geek Cafe's marketing team have their sights set on their core clients, handing out business cards and delivering pitches at rest homes.

Many bring in their devices, some still box-fresh and unwrapped awaiting the keys to digital mastery. Students must also keep up to speed with ever-changing advances in technology and the digital world.

The service also gives students real-world, transferable experience - every teenager involved in the programme applied online with a CV and had to do a job interview to secure the role. They are paid and taught how to get an IRD number, join KiwiSaver and fill out a tax return.

 - Sunday Star Times

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