At a time when social connection is more important than ever, increasing numbers of people from all walks of life are turning to GrandFriends.
The GrandFriends charity matches families with like-minded people who are willing to give the time, care and support these families are so desperately seeking.
Initially, these people were grandparents but with many people losing jobs through the Covid-19 pandemic, founder of Grandfriends, Jo Hayes, says people from all walks of life are now having time to give.
“A GrandFriend can be anyone of any age who is interested in increasing their social connections and building a ‘village’ around themselves and their families,” says Jo.
Anyone with love in their hearts
“We have single people in their 30s, aunties and uncles and, even, teens now wanting to get involved. Anyone who has some time on their hands and love in their hearts,” says Jo.
Jenner and Rob say they joined GrandFriends as they do not have any meaningful local family connections and wanted their children to have the same close grandparent connections they had had themselves.
“The best part of having a surrogate grandparent so far is watching the bonds grow between our kids and our surries (our nickname for Ken and Carey).
Our kids are so excited to spend time with them and it’s great watching that connection unfold and grow.
“We’ve celebrated some birthdays together, the kids have had sleepovers, we’ve had dinners and weekend catch ups and Carey took my daughter out for a girl’s day.
“To anyone considering signing up I would say go for it! We’ve found it be an overwhelmingly positive experience and my only regret is that this organisation didn’t exist sooner, as I would’ve loved to become involved years ago!
“It’s been terrific for the kids, but also for Rob and I. I can’t quite put into words what it’s like to feel like we have some semblance of family who care about us, living locally and taking part in our lives.”
Their “surries,” Ken and Carey, joined up as both their adult children told them they would not be having children of their own.
“We felt very sad, therefore we thought we could dedicate some time to a deserving family.
“We cannot describe the joy they have brought to our lives. We love the ‘grandies’ as we do the parents, which makes us feel part of the family unit. We especially love all the cuddles.”
Break-up led to GrandFriends
It was Jo’s marriage break-up that inspired the creation of GrandFriends.
In 2016, the UK-born mother of two was living in Auckland and newly separated from her Kiwi husband.
I found myself in a situation where I needed some additional support to help me through the tough situation.
“With my family on the other side of the world, what I really felt that I needed was a mum-type figure to lean on when I needed them.”
‘Someone has my back’
Jo says the charity grew out of her experience of knowing that someone has my back and can also help with practical things like picking the children up from school if she is running late.
“And I was blessed to have met the lovely Susan at my daughter’s day care when she was picking up her grandson. Our friendship turned into a merging of our families and Granny Susan has been welcomed into our family as an extra granny for my kids and a Kiwi mum for me.
“So many people had commented on how wonderful the situation was, and how they would have loved to have had some additional support when their kids had been younger and their own parents weren’t around, and that is how GrandFriends came about.
“What if we could provide a service to match families and GrandFriends together?”
So, the concept was shared, initially, around the Hibiscus Coast community (near Orewa, north of Auckland) where Jo lives. Through the local community Facebook page, it went viral, followed by local and national media exposure.
There was also much encouraging feedback from parents who wished a programme had been available when their children were growing up.
Interest from around NZ
Emails of interest kept arriving from all over New Zealand.
“You can’t say ‘no’ so it’s grown,” Jo says.
There have been almost 400 applications and GrandFriends can be found from Kerikeri in the north to Canterbury in the south. The oldest are in their 80s. Volunteer regional co-ordinators have been appointed in most major cities and all applicants undergo police vetting to safeguard everyone involved.
During lockdown technology kept families and GrandFriends in touch and the families often went shopping for them.
Inquiries for more GrandFriends kept coming in during lockdown.
Thanks to lockdown, zoom calls have largely become the first contact between families and potential GrandFriends, followed by a face to face meeting, when times allow.
Jo says she has big dreams for GrandFriends to expand because there is such a need.
“Currently, there is a waiting list of families seeking a GrandFriend, so we are always looking for new members to join our GrandFriends ‘family’.”
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For further information:
Find out more about this charity and how you can get involved at www.grandfriends.nz