Fostering empathy

The Senior and Teens Empathy Program connects teenagers and seniors with the aim of building community and improving their mental health.
Senior and teens empathy program builds community across generations

Students at our independent high school, The Bowen College, have been staying in regular contact with a local aged care home as part of their service learning, called the Senior and Teens Empathy Program.

The Senior and Teens Empathy Program (STEP), run by local social enterprise Heart & Soul Story, has been enjoyed by many Bowen College students and residents at the Bupa Aged Care home since 2018 and many unexpected friendships have formed during the visits.

With Bowen students visiting the Elders at Bupa Maroubra regularly, not only did they bring life into the aged care homes, but the students themselves have gained valuable skills such as increased confidence, self-esteem, empathy and gratitude.

Due to social distancing and the visitor restrictions imposed on Aged Care as a result of COVOD 19, the face to face program with students had to be put on hold, disappointing residents and students alike.

Founder of Heart & Soul Story, Samantha Heron, worked with students, teachers and Bupa Staff to move the program to virtual catch ups, the first occurring successfully at the end of June.

It is allowing residents the chance to engage with  technology and video call platforms that many of them had before never been exposed to, to engage in social catch ups with students.

With degrees in Psychology and Social Impact, Samantha Heron created the Seniors and Teens Empathy Program as a mental health promotion  program, not only with the aim to connect generations, but with the objective of improving the mental wellbeing of both seniors and teenagers.

The aim is to foster empathy, promote a sense of community, increase resilience and well-being and help encourage soulful lives across generations.

“The benefits of the program really go both ways. It’s not just teenagers visiting older people to make them feel better, the program is grounded in both local and international research looking at intergenerational programs and the overall wellbeing benefits for both parties.

We consistently see real gratitude coming from the students in their post program feedback, and staff at the aged care report increases in the overall moods and willingness to participate in other activities from the residents involved.”

“We also have a lot of priceless moments, last year we had a resident saying if she was the same age as her visitor she knows they would have been best friends at school!

And just last month, a magic moment of mine from the virtual catch ups, was a combined virtual realisation that the two ‘buddies’ had recently shared the same June birthday, it was ones 17th and the others 70th,  they were stoked by the coincidence.

The feedback from Bowen students has been very positive, many expressing how grateful the program has made them for their health and for the little things that they have:

“Before I started this program I thought I had so many issues in my own life, with school and friends and family. But when I got into the program it really gave me time to listen to my partners stories and reflect on my life and be really grateful for the things I did have. “– Sarah*

This heart-warming program has improved not only the lives of residents at the aged care home but  we are seeing  how it impacts our students  and their sense of connection to the community also.

Well done to our students and staff for working closely with Samantha of Heart & Soul Story to organise these virtual catch ups that are bringing connection, hope and importantly laughter during what is a difficult time for many.

Learn more about STEP by visiting

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