“If I’m with children, it makes me feel just wonderful – it really does,” says 90-year-old Valda Hunt. “Me being with them is all I need.”
Valda spends time with children by volunteering for The Storytelling Project, a special program that is run jointly by her retirement home, Peninsula Villages, and the nearby Umina Kids Club on the Central Coast of NSW. Along with others from the village, she makes regular visits to the club to share tales, both real and make-believe.
“They’re only small children, [but] they will quite frequently sit down and want to listen to a long story,” Valda says. “You can see from the look in their eyes that they’re interested and they want to hear more.”
Peninsula Villages, a non-profit aged care organisation, has now been facilitating the storytelling program for more than 10 years. The aim, according to organisers, is to foster intergenerational relationships in the local community and to fire the imaginations of youngsters. As our lives become increasingly digital, The Storytelling Project gives both kids and adults a chance to connect in the real world.
For Valda, who moved in to the retirement village three years ago, volunteering for the program is the latest chapter in a life spent raising and assisting children. Born in the Sydney suburb of Ashfield, she spent much of her adult life working as a bookkeeper in local schools. When she and her husband decided to move back to her husband’s childhood home on the Central Coast, she sought out the principal of a school in Avoca Beach – but this time she decided to try a different job.
“The principal asked me, ‘Do you want to work in the office again?’ and I said, ‘Not on your life.’ I wanted to be able to mix with children, which I did – I volunteered twice a week to go up to the school and I did that until I was 81 and I just loved it.”
Valda and her late husband had three children of their own, but one died of leukaemia aged 10. Valda’s remaining children, Leony and Mark, didn’t have kids. “I waited for grandchildren, but [my children] never married,” she says. Valda’s husband had children from another relationship, however, and his grandchildren now visit Valda at Peninsula Villages.
Shortly after Valda arrived at the aged care facility, staff members approached her about volunteering for The Storytelling Project. “I think people felt that I would enjoy something like it … that I would love the children and it would show,” she recalls.
Now, she eagerly awaits the days when she boards a special lifter bus and travels to the Kids Club. Some of Valda’s earliest memories are of storytelling, so she understands the impact it can have on youngsters. “My father’s mother used to tell me beautiful stories,” she says. “When I’d been to church, I liked to walk down to her house because I knew that when I got there, there’d be a story.”
She says the kids she talks to today seem similarly warmed by her storytelling. “I feel like I’ve meant something to them,” she says of her visits. “And they’ve meant a dickens of a lot to me.”
She adds: “I just love it. It will live in my memory forever.”