Students and aged care home residents unite to cut loose with Footloose

Cooinda Aged Care Benalla residents and FCJ College students film their 'Footloose' lip sync video.Supplied: Christine Walters

Two north-east Victorian institutions are bridging the generation gap — using the power of song and dance.

Students from Benalla's FCJ College and residents from Cooinda Aged Care star in a

featuring them dancing to Kenny Loggins' 1980s classic, Footloose.

The video has been watched more than 95,000 times and the students and residents have attracted plenty of wider media attention for their work.

But, the film is just a small part of a much broader initiative.

It stems from the 'Let's Find Our Voice' program, a wellbeing project that brings together the residents and students to promote a sense of purpose, altruism, self-respect and kindness.

"It encourages understanding and empathy and I think they're values that we really have to foster," director of wellbeing at FCJ College, Catherine Burton, said.

Photo FCJ College students and Cooinda Aged Care residents perform a concert at BPACC as part of the 2018 'Let's Find Our Voice' program.

FCJ College students and Cooinda Aged Care residents perform a concert as part of the 'Let's Find Our Voice' programSupplied: Cooinda Aged Care Services Benalla

"It brings out the best in [the children]. Not every child has a grandparent around and not every resident gets visitors, so it brings benefits to both sides."

For eight weeks a year, about 60 students travel to Cooinda to take part in a joint choir.

At the end of the rehearsal period they perform a concert, with some residents even performing solo.

"When a song comes on that the choir is singing that has been a part of a dementia patient's earlier life, the words come back to them," Cooinda chief executive, Margaret Aldous, said.

While the program primarily involves year seven students, it has grown exponentially, and the school is trialling new ways to build upon the connections made between the students and residents.

Year 10 students write memoirs based on the residents' lives, the music students accompany the choir, there are technical assistants, caterers, photographers and ushers.

"We try to tap into students' talents and try to include as many as we can," Ms Burton said.

Then, there's the celebrated 'lip sync' video … a highlight for many of the residents and students involved.

The faces behind the film

Cooinda resident Sheila Burnell has described participating in the program as, "exhausting, but great fun".

Photo Cooinda resident Sheila Burnell talks about her experience participating in the 'Let's Find Our Voice' program.

Cooinda resident Sheila Burnell at the 2018 Dementia Walk in BenallaABC Goulburn Murray: Mahalia Dobson

"To meet the younger students at FCJ was wonderful," she said.

"It has given me confidence in the future."

Not only did Ms Burnell take part in the choir rehearsals and final 'lip sync' film, she was also given the opportunity to explain her life story to a year 10 student, as part of the 'memoir writing' branch of the program.

"To my surprise they were very interested. I thought I'd be boring them, but I wasn't apparently. They were just eager to know anything I had to tell them," Ms Burnell said.

"I think [the partnership] is wonderful. To see all the young people coming along, it's just lovely."

FCJ College student Ellen Sambell said she recommended the program to any future FCJ College students.

"I had heaps of fun," she said.

"It was great talking to the residents and learning about their life stories.

"It wasn't all about the video … the video was only the final product. The program is actually a lot more important."

Both residents and students said they learned a lot from the other generation.

Photo FCJ students support Cooinda aged care residents at the 2018 Dementia Walk in Benalla.

FCJ students support Cooinda aged care residents at the 2018 Dementia WalkABC Goulburn Murray: Mahalia Dobson

"I learned a lot of resilience from them," Ellen said.

"They might have had lots of struggles that I've never experienced.

"There's just so much we can learn from them … I hope she learned things from me as well."

"It was an eye-opener to see that the elderly residents aren't just old people in our community … they like to have fun as well," FCJ College student, Mason Ring, said.

"I hope we taught them that, [we] respect them."

Bridging the generation gap

Both Cooinda Aged Care and FCJ College believed it was important to foster friendships between old and young Australians.

"The strength of music to break down barriers and allow connections to be made between groups of people who start out as strangers and end up as friends is evident time and time again with this project," FCJ College Principal, Joanna Rock, said.

"The weekly interactions allow each group to see beyond the stereotypes and come to see the energy of the young and the wisdom of the elders shine through," she said.

The institutions have continued to work together, with students attending a Dementia Walk organised by Cooinda last week.

"We believe in bringing some education to the community around diseases of ageing," Ms Aldous said.

"Unfortunately a lot of older age is seen as not that exciting. But these older people have had amazing life experiences. The students benefit a great deal by learning about older people and enjoying the interaction."

Ms Burton said she hoped other institutions would adopt similar initiatives in the future.

"It's a deeply satisfying program," she said.

"I just think it would be great if schools took up partnerships with aged care facilities because the benefits are just endless."

Photo FCJ College students and Cooinda Aged Care Benalla residents film their lip sync 'Footloose' video as part of the 'Let's Find Our Voice' program.

FCJ College students and Cooinda Aged Care Benalla residents film their lip sync 'Footloose' videoSupplied: Christine Walters

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