News & Events

iGEN Program: Never too young – or old – to learn


iGEN (Intergenerational learning) is a partnership between Mercy Health, Australian Catholic University (ACU) and Catherine McAuley College (CMC).

A special event was held on 18 August for former participants in the iGEN program to return to Bethlehem and reconnect with the residents they met over the past few years.

The reunions showed us just how significant the connections with residents have been and how strong this program is. The students were amazing ambassadors for our College.

We were joined by the Mercy Health Media Team, the ABC, the Bendigo Advertiser and WIN News. Mr Brian Turner (Principal), the CMC students and Bethlehem residents took part in interviews about the program and there are links below to the published articles and television interviews.


The partners’ commitment to this ground-breaking intergenerational program in Bendigo remains steadfast despite two and a half years of disruptions caused by COVID-19.

At the beginning of 2020, it was envisaged that two groups each semester of Year 10 students (approx. 75 students) from Catherine McAuley College and their teachers would undertake weekly visits to the Mercy Health Bethlehem Home for the Aged in Bendigo to interact with residents.

However, the pandemic and visitor restrictions to all Australian aged care homes meant that for the program to continue, classes needed to become virtual and online events.

This year, the numbers have grown to 120 Year 10 students who now make weekly visits each semester to the aged care home. Two groups participated in the first semester and three groups began classes in the second semester, which commenced in mid-July.

Currently, about 30 aged care residents participate in the program.

Mr Brian Turner says the students from the disrupted two years still gained benefits from the virtual experience and despite their increased workload, a number expressed an interest in resuming involvement in the program during years 11 and 12.

“We have also found that, of their own accord, some have undertaken work experience at the aged care home,” Mr Turner said.

“To discover that some of our older students are maintaining relationships with residents they came into contact with while working online is rewarding for the instigators of the program – it is tangible evidence that the program is working,” he said.

Mercy Health Chief Executive of Residential Aged Care, Home Services and Seniors Living Associate Adjunct Professor Felix Pintado said he was proud and honoured to be partnering with a school within the Mercy ministry.

“It is a tribute to the resilience of both the students and residents from Catherine McAuley College and Mercy Health Bethlehem Home for the Aged that despite the challenges of COVID-19, all participants have persisted and made the program work effectively.

“Mercy Health’s commitment to the program from day one has been significant and the plan is for it to be ongoing,” he said.

Mr Turner said parents of students have embraced the program and are kept fully informed of its progress.

“I’m excited and a firm believer in the concept. There are myriad educational and social benefits, as well as rewards for our students, while for our ‘elders’ I’m convinced it’s producing feelings of inspiration, leading to increased surges of activity and, in some cases, even a new meaning for their lives,” Mr Turner said.

Mr Turner said there have been cases of students writing historical essays based on interviews with residents, rather than relying solely on books or the internet.

“There have been cases where students have respectfully probed a resident’s past or asked questions about an historical event they might have experienced,” Mr Turner said.

He added that intergenerational engagement fundamentally recognised the enormous resource older citizens possessed and could provide to their community.

Mr Turner said expectations of iGEN include:

  • improvement of quality of life for aged care and student communities
  • improvement of the quality of aged care and educational services
  • enhancement of the reputation of two organisations as leaders in innovative programs (Mercy Health Bethlehem Home for the Aged and Catherine McAuley College)
  • improvement of organisational culture

Assoc Adj Prof Felix Pintado says to hear that some students are undertaking work experience at the home shows that students have reacted positively and have decided they want to continue building relationships with the residents.

“Possibly it may even encourage students to consider a career in aged care.

“We don’t say this lightly but based on feedback from those closest to the program, most students are showing wonderful empathy towards the residents.

“For the residents, we believe it will lead to an increased feeling of self-worth, decreased levels of loneliness, isolation and depression and more hours of social interaction,” Assoc Adj Prof Pintado said.

Another exciting and beneficial feature of the program is that researchers from Australian Catholic University (ACU) are reviewing and conducting analysis throughout the semesters, based on feedback from all participants.

The outcomes of the programme will be assessed, analysed and made public next month. ACU has a long history of collaboration and relationship with both Mercy Health and Mercy Education.

Mercy Health and Mercy Education are both ministries of the Sisters of Mercy, which led by the example of the organisation’s founder Catherine McAuley, have established many schools, hospitals and convents around the globe.