When I heard about Greta Thunberg, a young girl who began calling for stronger action on climate change from the Swedish Parliament when she only 15, I was impressed at her determination at such a young age. I thought that this was something unique.
That was until I heard about Brooklyn, a 10-year child in British Columbia, who is on a mission of her own.
It is February 13, 2020, and I’m sitting in a cozy living room with Brooklyn, her mother Amanda and her great grandmother, Vi.
For the past three years, Brooklyn told me, she has been volunteering to visit lonely residents at a nearby care home called Kinsmen Lodge. She is a mentor in an activity program offered there called Java Mentorship.
Three years? Wait a minute—that means Brooklyn started this when she was 7 years old!
My general impression of ten-year-old girls today is that they love texting, being playing with their friends, riding a bicycle—not spending time with elders.
I asked her if she went every week. Brooklyn answered shyly, “Every Wednesday. So, I went yesterday.” It turns out that her great grandmother, Vi, makes sure that Brooklyn gets safely to the care home to meet with her Java Mentorship team, and then Vi goes off to volunteer at the Tuck Shop.
Vi states with a big smile: “You can take anything away from Brooklyn, ice cream or whatever, a trip to the movies, but not mentorship…because it means that much to her.”
So, I wanted to know more. Loneliness and depression are an all too common experience for residents in long-term care homes (Elias, 2018). This is clearly a problem, one that needs creative solutions.
Intergenerational programming has positive benefits for elders and children alike (Gualano, Voglino, Bert, & thomas, 2018). But what it like for a ten-year-old to be a mentor and support someone who is so much older?
Brooklyn explained that the mentorship team, made up of residents and volunteers from the community, meet every week as a team to tackle loneliness. During the team meetings, the mentors do a supportive check in, receive training, tips and tricks on being a great mentor (e.g., how to spend time with someone who doesn’t talk much), and then pair up to do the visits. Does she enjoy the team meetings?
Brooklyn responded: “Yeah,…and when a new person comes in [to join our team] we give our names and share something that we like, usually something like ice cream…. (her favorite is mint chocolate chip, or as her great-grandmother Vi said: “Whatever’s in the cupboard!”)
Brooklyn offered: “There is this lady I really really like. She’s new, and we like talking to her because she’ll talk about anything unless it’s about her family, because that makes her sad…sometimes we [do] talk about her family when she’s like doing a lot better,…if she’s like feeling down we try and cheer her up like talking about dancing. She loves square dancing.”
Vi shared that things are not always easy for the mentors on the team: “It’s really hard on [Brooklyn] though when somebody passes. She’s had a few lately that are not there anymore.”
Brooklyn shared: “My favorite elder died—no one came to visit him really. We had something in common, we both liked horses. He really liked horses and I did too. But then he passed.”
I wondered if this is too hard for a young girl. But it doesn’t seem to stop Brooklyn. She paused for a moment and then went on to say: “It means a lot to me because I’ve had 2 grandpa’s pass.”
She goes together on her visits with one of the resident mentors from her team. Brooklyn added: “Its kind of fun visiting elders for me. I like that the elders participate. Because it’s like… it is good for them to go visit other elders on other floors.”
Vi jumps in with: “She’s got this smile on her face, which catches people right away. As soon as she comes in [to Kinsmen Lodge] they say: ‘There’s Brooklyn!’. All the staff know her—everyone knows who Brooklyn is.”
“She’s a great all-around kid at the lodge…just because she knows that people are down, or people are in wheelchairs and can’t get around, and she gets it!”
Brooklyn added: “I took Daisy [her dog] yesterday, and this one lady, she really liked Daisy. I held her and she [the resident] petted it.”
I am filled with admiration. This is one 10-year-old on a mission. We are never too young and never too old. Thank you, Brooklyn, for your inspiration. You are giving us hope that we truly can end loneliness. Not with technology, not with robots—with real human connection and love.
Elias, S. M. S. (2018). Prevalence of loneliness, anxiety, and depression among older people living in long-term care: A review. International Journal of Care Scholars, 1(1), 39-43.
Gualano, M. R., Voglino, G., Bert, F., & thomas, R. (2018). The impact of intergenerational programs on children and older adults: A review. International Psychogeriatrics, 30(4), 451-468. doi: 10.1017/S104161021700182X