Special needs students bond with elderly customers at pop-up cafe

Syan Dougherty

A group of school students in Western Australia is serving so much more than afternoon tea to the elderly at a local nursing home.

Every week the teenagers from Rockingham Senior High School plan, bake and wait on residents at BaptistCare Gracehaven.

"Those students today are practicing their skills they've done in hospitality and they actually practice the most important skill - their social skills - in a really wonderful context," said Caroline Mason, associate principal at the school’s education support centre.

One student told Today Tonight with pride: "We've baked the cupcakes, the jam drops and the vanilla slice."

The students plan, bake and wait on the residents. Source: Today Tonight

The education support students are earning a certificate in hospitality, but the lessons go far beyond the curriculum.

"Our students may have things like intellectual disabilities, autism, some mental health issues, so we support them in a school context where they can reach the best of their abilities," Ms Mason said.

Students say they have learnt a lot from the residents and their history.

But the encounters don't only benefit the teenagers.

The pop up cafe was set up about six months ago. Source: Today Tonight

"In a way, they're teaching you their way of thinking and they're learning your way and I think that's fantastic," said Lorraine, a nursing home resident.

As the weeks have progressed, relationships between the students and the residents have flourished.

"They get to know them and they get to know what they like so when they come in they'll go, ‘Oh, Shane loves music’. So they'll go put the music on for him and they sing along all the time," lifestyle coordinator Kim Jordan said.

Relationships between the teens and the residents have flourished. Source: Today Tonight

A growing body of research shows bringing different generations together has wide ranging benefits.

And for some residents, it's the only time they come into contact with teenagers.

"It's good to see them intermingling with us because I don't believe there's enough of it," said Arthur.

Ms Jordan and Ms Mason said the whole thing was surprisingly easy to pull together. All they need was a bright idea and two willing parties.

"We just like brainstormed what we could do and I said yep I can facilitate that, you can facilitate this," Ms Jordan said.

For some residents it's the only occasion they have contact with teens. Source: Today Tonight

"It's about school working together, and working with all the lovely communities we have out there. I think it would definitely be a really good opportunity for other schools to take," Ms Mason added.

For now it is a pop-up cafe serving tea and coffee with a side-order of love, but the relationship is set to continues to grow with plans for a horticulture program next year.