Thanks to International Grammar School for this recent article ……

“IGS Year 10 students recently showed their gratitude for the virtual visits with Opal Aged Care residents.

In a Tribute Recognition session, students and residents shared cards and reflected on their time spent together.

Samantha Heron of Heart and Soul Story and the facilitator of the Seniors and Teens Empathy (STEP) Program said she has continued to be blown away by the enthusiasm, patience and good humour of the IGS students taking part.

“The conversations are not always straightforward,” Samantha said.

“On the rare occasion they don’t go as smoothly as one might hope, the students seem to accept this with an incredible level of grace and maturity that warms the heart.

“As the facilitator of this program, it is always a double bonus to learn not just about the lives of our elders but to get an insight to the lives of these vibrant and interesting students.”

The students recently reflected on some of the things they have enjoyed about the STEP program.

Katya: “It’s been an unforgettable experience connecting with people we otherwise never would have, and so special finding things in common with people you usually wouldn’t meet. It’s been great to hear their wisdom.” 

Faraday: “We think this is a super educational experience and you get to meet some really great people.”

Ines: “Doing this was a great experience, learning about your lives, your likes and dislikes and how much we
connected. We really enjoyed doing this.”

Ed: “We are sad that this term’s STEP is coming to an end, but I’m looking forward to welcoming a new cohort of students into the lives of the residents next term.”

2020 …The no mud, no lotus year to not forget

As we leave 2020 behind ( a year many people would like to forget), it’s very important to take the time to reflect on the challenges we faced both personally and collectively. As an amazing guide since I spent time with her in 2018 , @laynebeachley reminds us

“ here’s the thing about challenge – it’s a powerful teacher, it propels us to find solutions to problems we never would have considered if not for adversity.”

When Covid 19 last year, Heart & Soul Story was running face to face programs in Aged Care. With our Elders being the most vulnerable to this globe sweeping pandemic, they were swiftly cut off from the outside world. A necessary move to protect their vulnerable physical health, however the effects of social isolation on their mental health comes with its own severe consequences. We certainly all felt what it was like to be cut off from our community when social isolation measures were introduced – this was far worse for those in Aged Care who were cut off from family and friends.

For every challenge in life, we must take deep breaths and look for the if there is a corresponding opportunity waiting to be uncovered – the simple Buddhist philosophy of No Mud, No Lotus – that the secret to happiness is to acknowledge and transform suffering, no to run away from it, could be the tattoo imprinted on the year 2020.

In March 2020, a part of me began to despair…. building The Seniors & Teens Empathy, Program since 2018, yet now suddenly no child under 16 would be allowed back into Aged Care for the foreseeable future ( even sill now they are not allowed back in without a current flu vaccination). We had no option but to turn virtual – Zoom & Skype like the rest of the world was doing … but with octogenarians, most of whom had never used and iPad or smartphone in their lives ???

Yup – there was a certain amount of lurking around in the mud of tech challenges …who didn’t have a Zoom this year where the sound wasn’t working or the wi fi cut out ?? … but we stumbled through and before we knew it we were successfully running STEP Virtual – conversations and laughter that were once shared in person was still happening, albeit through the marvels of modern technology.
Throughout the year we ran virtual programs with International Grammar School, Youth off the Streets The Bowen College and through a partnership with Raise Foundation with Randwick Boys & Chatswood High.

We could not have transitioned the program without the help of our amazing partners, Opal Healthcare, Bupa Australia, International Grammar School, Youth off the Streets, Raise Foundation. Also those who volunteered along the way, in particular Michelle Lee, Jane Montgomery and Briana Ranieri. It was through their incredible support we transitioned a face to face program to virtual under such challenging circumstances of 2020

Heart & Soul Story also received wonderful ongoing support from Sefa Partnerships and The Macquarie Foundation with support on a project from a team of 8 whom worked with me and delivered to their end of March deadline despite the COVid 19 having just hit.

So though we are racing at a pre 2020 speed back through 2021, in mid February already, let’s not forget the important lessons last year brought with it. May 2021 bring you peace, joy and laughter and success in your endevours … but also may the mud that you at times may have to wade through open you heart to the lesson that to truly live life involves pain – the amount of suffering you go through can be lessened by your reaction to that pain.

Seniors and Teens Empathy Program in the news for Youth off the Streets

In July, the Seniors and Teens Empathy Program featured in Youth off the Streets news, marking a two year partnership between Heart & Soul Story and The Bowen College. Over that time the program has been supported by The Awesome Foundation Sydney, Layne Beachley’s Aim for the Stars Foundation, Randwick Council and Bupa Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability. We’ve matched more than 25 students with residents through our face to face and virtual programs. This may not sound like a high number, but the aim is not quantity, but quality. We are building realtioships…and this takes time. Thanks to Youth off the Streets for the article below that can be found on their website here

“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. The Senior and Teens Empathy Program (STEP), run by local social enterprise Heart & Soul Story,  has been enjoyed by many Bowen 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  helping  improve 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 consistantly  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:

Virtual STEP kicks off, keeping generations connected

“As we are learning with many of the challenges we have been faced with during the COVID19 pandemic, sometimes out of the mud an incredible lotus grows. Whilst I firmly believe nothing can or will ever replace the warmth and comfort of face to face connection, having a person shake or hold your hand, give you a hug or slap your leg as you laugh together, I also see the incredible potential that technology offers to bring the community back together, bringing the cheek, laughter and joy of youth into aged care homes around our country.”

To keep reading more about Heart & Soul Story’s virtual program with International Grammar School & Opal Aged Care click here

Heart & Soul Story has also been virtually connected residents at Bupa Aged Care Maroubra back with their buddies from Youth off the Streets, The Bowen College. Students from The Bowen College spent part of term 1 connecting face to face with residents at Bupa Maroubra where we have been running STEP since 2018. They were excited to be able to reconnect from their school via SKYPE and will do so twice a term for the rest of the year as part of their service learning.

How do we keep our Elders socially connected in this time of social distancing?

Wow. What a time. The government and health industry are working incessantly to bring together the best heads to continually figure out the correct strategy to protect the health of our nation, and in particular its most vulnerable, to stay safe from COVID 19.

Part of that strategy has this week announced that visitors to Aged Care be limited to 2 at a time, with school groups and overseas visitors banned. These measures are vital to protect the health, and lives of our precious Elders, but they also of course bring to bear the mental health concerns of socially isolating so many who are already so socially isolated for much of the time ( social isolation can be as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes a day). 

 Following advice from NSW Health, Heart and Soul Story immediately called a stop to our face to face visits to Aged Care for the Seniors and Teens Empathy Program we have been running with Bupa Aged Care and are set to run with Opal Aged Care from April. Given the aim of the Seniors and Teens Empathy Program, to Bring Community Back Together, is the exact antithesis of the necessary ‘social distancing’ measures being encouraged across the globe, Heart and Soul Story will be working with teachers, students and staff at Opal and Bupa Aged Care to come up with ways to keep the relationships & connection between the young and old in alternative methods to face to face contact. ( A quick search on Google trends shows that until around the 1st of March this year, ‘Social Distancing’ was a basic flatline of a search term, it has climbed steadily since.) 

This week we have already been keeping up the connection with letters written and pictures drawn by students to be delivered to residents. One of those students was proud when she finished her letter and actually commented “ That’s the first time I’ve done that, I usually just write texts!” …. But of course, we are going to need to do more, as we need to do when any flu or virus hits, and Aged Care’s are forced into lockdown mode. We need and are in discussion with the Aged Care’s to be working on innovative technological solutions of course, but do we also need to look back to taking the time to teach our students the patience of scribing words of encouragement and love in a good old fashioned letter, (and have them emailed through if not through good old Australia Post ?) 

To continue reading this article, please go to How Do We Keep Our Elders Socially Connected and please join the conversation

Stories of Connection greet Aged Care Commissioner

I dropped into Opal Annandale on Friday to visit the residents who had taken part in STEP and let them know we were underway in our planning for next year’s program visits, to find that the newly appointed Aged Care Commissioner former Federal Court of Australia judge Hon Gaetano (Tony) Pagone, had just been in for a visit to further his understanding of Aged Care in situ. I was delighted to see in the entrance, the story of the heartwarming connections of the Seniors and Teens Empathy Program (STEP)  to greet him.

As a nation, Australia has drifted into an ageist mindset that undervalues older people and limits their possibilities. Sadly, this failure to properly value and engage with older people as equal partners in our future has extended to our apparent indifference towards aged care services. Left out of sight and out of mind, these important services are floundering. They are fragmented, unsupported and underfunded. With some admirable exceptions, they are poorly managed. All too often, they are unsafe and seemingly uncaring.

This must change.

Australia prides itself on being a clever, innovative and caring country. Why, then, has the Royal Commission found these qualities so signally lacking in our aged care system?

We have uncovered an aged care system that is characterised by an absence of innovation and by rigid conformity.” (Excerpt from Royal Commission into Aged Care Health and Safety Interim Report)

It is heartening to know that Tony Pagone, with so many years of experience and such a strong interest in social justice, was wanting to see for himself what things are like on the ground in Aged Care. And it was equally heartening to know, that amongst needing to hear the heartbreaking cases of abuse and neglect during the Aged Commission hearings, he could also get to see that there there are also many dedicated people working in Aged Care and in our community full of compassion, care and conviction for the best possible life for the Elders of our society.

Read more here about the 2019 intergenerational partnership program with Opal Annandale, International Grammar School and Heart and Soul Story and here to read more about STEP in the community.

Fond farewell for ‘connected’ seniors and igs teens

Thank you to Head of Senior School, Anthony Dennehy, and Head of Well Being, Margaret Borger and the team from International Grammar School for their support in trialling the Seniors and Teens Empathy Program. Special thanks to the amazing students and residents involved for their kindness, good humour, and thoughtfulness throughout the program. This article appeared on the International Grammar School website on 12 September, 2019

It was an emotional farewell for young and old at the Opal Annandale Aged Care centre during the final visit of our Year 10 students.

Students Jed, Rory, Natascha and Annie were part of an intergenerational Seniors and Teens Empathy Program (STEP), a successful two-month trial centered around story sharing.

Sam Heron, of Heart and Soul Story, developed the STEP program and said she hoped the program would help foster empathy, promote a sense of community and increase resilience and wellbeing.

“Thanks to IGS school and parents for their willingness to have their teens as part of this first program for IGS and Opal and
essentially believe in the importance of the community connection Heart and Soul Story is trying to build,” she said.

Students were buddied up with residents and enjoyed learning about their lives, hearing about their childhoods and families, and about their biggest achievements.

Rory said he was amazed that Opal resident Betty had travelled all the way to Australia on a ship, just 12 days after getting married.

During their last visit to the Aged Centre in September, it was clear the students had developed a deep connection with the residents.

The students presented their buddies with small gifts, photos and cards as keepsakes.

Students’ parents were invited to be part of the final visit.

Jed’s mother, Lara, said she was really pleased when IGS staff asked if he would be a part of the program.

“He would come home and tell us about his experience and the stories, we could see what a special experience it was,” Lara said.

“He said it was the highlight of his week coming here. 

“We knew it would be a really great program but we’re just really quite touched and amazed at what everyone got out of it and being here today and seeing the connection that they have, it’s quite emotional.”

Jed has since made a promise to keep visiting the residents at Opal.

Natascha’s mother Cathy said she couldn’t be prouder seeing Tash give back and connecting with the community.

“To be able to learn from the experience and people that have lived their lives,” she said.

“To hear what she and all the students have learned, it’s just so incredible. It’s a real two-way impact.”

What’s been happening at Heart and Soul Story?

On June 7th, Heart and Soul Story’s Founder, Samantha Heron, was invited to speak on intergenerational connection at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney for Awesome Sauce, a special Vivid Sydney event with partners The Awesome Foundation and VibeWire.

Sam recounted stories of connection from STEP – the Seniors and Teens Empathy Program she has been running with The Bowen College Maroubra and Elders at Bupa Aged Care Maroubra.

In June, STEP kicked off a trial for students from International Grammar School and residents at Opal Aged Care in Annandale. Youth off the Streets The Bowen College have their spring program underway at Bupa Maroubra over August/ September. To keep posted on this program and more from Heart and Soul Story, follow along on instagram (by clicking on one of the pictures top right of this page).

Can technology replace human empathy?

Her name is Zora. She speaks 19 languages and at 57cm tall fits snugly on your lap. She can play memory games and participate in exercises, read books and sing to you. From Belgium to Brightwater Madeley in Western Australia, the ‘cuddly human-like robot’ is being deployed to combat the growing loneliness and social isolation experienced by elderly people living in aged care facilities the world over.

Although technology can and does improve quality of life for all, can it really provide genuine connection through our innately human attribute of empathy?

With studies increasingly reporting the adverse effects of loneliness for the elderly, and growing ‘virtual’ connectivity of the young, intergenerational learning is man’s oldest and most useful tool. Intergenerational learning is the process whereby knowledge, norms, skills and values are shared between people of different ages through the discussion of shared experiences. Creating purposeful and ongoing exchanges of learning and resources among older and younger generations benefits everyone. Second to using fire, the banking of knowledge and learning from previous generations might even be a big part of human progression!

Bringing the young and old together in aged care through intergenerational programs has shown to bring health benefits and reduce social isolation for the elderly, whilst reducing ageism and increasing empathy in the young. From a broader perspective, such programs create an opportunity for society to challenge ageist stereotypes especially about the contributions of people living with dementia.


698-07812988 © Masterfile Royalty-Free Model Release: Yes Property Release: No Grandson singing and playing guitar for grandfather at home

With a projected one million people who will be living with a dementia-related illness by 2050 in Australia, empathy, education and understanding will be much needed.

Not unique to Australia, the prevalence of dementia is growing world wide. In 2018, an interesting Italian study by Santini et al looked at Intergenerational programs involving adolescents. Initially the teenagers found the aged care setting to be confrontational and daunting, as captured by a student comment that reflected how many of his peers felt: “The elderly are a burden for young people who cannot find work. . . Italy is a country made of old people, and young people have to pay their pensions. . .” After six months of joint intergenerational activities, students slowly started to change their opinions on older people. “Elderly are often disregarded as they are deemed useless, but those I met are certainly not useless!

At the end of the program, conflict and confusion gave way to friendship, empathy, listening, and mutual understanding: “Friendship between young and older people is possible and is good. We can try to be more understanding towards older people and put ourselves in their shoes. We should not exclude them from society but exploit their experience for better facing life’s problems and thus making them feel useful.”

We’re living in an age where institutions and universities are trialling pilots and programs in order to study and conclude what seems natural and obvious: that the interactions and emotional dependence we have on one another is instrumental to living a life fulfilled, with health and well being the end result for all. Humans needs humans, and in particular, our young and not so young, gain so much from spending time with each other … it’s a simple fact that won’t change no matter how much technology progresses.

Heart and Soul Story currently runs an Intergenerational Connection program ( STEP – Senior and Teens Empathy Program) with students from Youth off the Streets Bowen College and Bupa Aged Care Maroubra.

week 6 b

Thank you to Heart and Soul Story’s Dementia Advisor, Diana Collings, for this thought provoking article. You can read more about Diana’s resources to aid people with dementia


Santini, S., Tombolesi, V., Baschiera, B. and Lamura, G. (2018). Intergenerational Programs Involving Adolescents, Institutionalized Elderly, and Older Volunteers: Results from a Pilot Research-Action in Italy. BioMed Research International, 2018, pp.1-14.

Zagoričnik, A., Bylykbashi, A. and Starc, A. (2018). Intergenerational programs as a solution to the social isolation of the elderly. Health of the Elderly, Conference Paper, pp.133-143.

The Conversation. (2019). A new project shows combining childcare and aged care has social and economic benefits. [online] Available at:

This human-like robot is lending a helping hand in aged care homes – Create News. [online] Create News. Available at:

The New Humanism: Technology should enhance, not replace, human interactions.

The wonder of Bringing Community Back Together

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Just as each remarkable sunrise can touch us with a feeling of amazement and admiration, so too can the energy of being in a room of people with over half a century between them as they give thanks and recognition for time shared together.

The Recognition Gathering week of STEP (Senior and Teens Empathy Program) saw students from Youth off the Streets Bowen College show their gratitude to their Elders in front of their community of parents and teachers.

The students had worked on gifts of respect as diverse as booklets of images of their time spent together, interspersed with pictures from their Elder’s homeland … to the making of an intricate dream catcher.

The Elders too, passed on their words of gratitude and recognition in cards. Some offering simple advice for the future such as ” Don’t smoke” … others crafting words from the heart about the journey ahead that the Teens will be able to turn to for years to come.

One of many incredible outcomes from this 8-week program, is that one of the students who was so motivated by her weekly visits with her Elders, she has chosen to go on to do her work experience in the Aged Care home this term.

Who of us in our digitalized and remote lives has not wondered about our disappearing sense of connectedness — face to face, person to person and within a tribe? The more we find ourselves hitting “send,” “reply,” and “post,” the less connected we often feel and become … there is a growing longing to return to a sense of real community ”

Mike Bodkin, Executive Director, Rites of Passage Vision Quest

STEP was designed using a Rites of Passage framework  as a program that aims to nourish and develop the souls of adolescents on their path to find purpose and meaning through a vision of life that is bigger than self. Simultaneously, it gives purpose and meaning to our wonderful Elders to share their stories and their advice from their life journey.

A modern-day rite of passage is achieved when the community create experiences for youth which are perceived to be transformative and, in fact, offer them increased status within the community and facilitate their healthy transition through adolescence” Blumenkrantz, 1996

Heart and Soul Story is excited about the potential opportunity to work further with Youth off the Streets to implement STEP as part of their Service Learning curriculum for 2019.