Jim Battersby would probably not want this article to be about him. His self-effacing outlook prefers the kudos to be shared with others. And in some respects he is right. The great things we do in life, those challenges that we rise to and succeed in, are rarely achieved alone. One person, however, is all that is needed to be a catalyst for something worthy and important to happen, and that is the story here.
Four years ago Jim was walking along Dominion Road Extension and heard the sounds of children playing and laughing. He was outside Roskill South Kindy, and these sounds drew him like nothing had in some time. He had been going through a bout of what he calls “the miseries,” and the children’s noisy play had the effect of making him want to be part of that uncomplicated happiness. He felt like an urchin from the street when he shyly approached Karen Ramsey, head teacher at the Kindy, and asked if he might visit for a while.
Here's where the other side of the story kicks in. Karen and her team decided to take a risk. Yes, it was a little risky; they didn’t know Jim, and didn’t know how it would work out, but he was invited to come for a kindy visit the next term. The team were on tenterhooks, wanting Jim to enjoy his time at the kindy, but they needn’t have worried. The children took over.
Having been told they would be getting a visitor the next day, the children unanimously decided his name would be “Poppa Jim.” Upon his arrival, Jim was welcomed by the children who all wanted to show him their pictures, books, playdough creations and sandpit forts. Poppa Jim was a huge hit.
So began Poppa Jim’s regular visits to Roskill South Kindy. Every Tuesday he would walk the short distance from his home to Kindy, and more recently via scooter. It’s normal for Jim to hear “Here’s Poppa Jim!” as he arrives, and “I love you Poppa Jim!” He’s never without a child or three who want to snuggle with him as he reads a story, and Jim encourages their natural curiosity about his infirmities. He believes it’s important that they learn about the normalities of old age.
Jim speaks in soft, glowing tones about his experiences at kindy. He proudly shows the cards and pictures lovingly made for him which adorn his home, and values them as more precious than any awards he has been given. All the kindy children have a portfolio which is added to each day by the teachers to create a story of their time at kindy. Jim also has a portfolio. In fact, he now has two. If he is sick, he receives emails from the children hoping that he will get better soon. Two years ago for his 90th birthday party, over 100 children and their families attended the celebrations.
Poppa Jim has become somewhat of a local celebrity. Karen describes one child spotting him from the second storey window of her home, and yelling “Hi Poppa Jim!!” at the top of her lungs, much to the chagrin of her mother. Poppa Jim also finds he is sometimes greeted enthusiastically by young children at the supermarket.
When Jim first became a regular visitor at the kindy, he thought it would be lovely to be a kind of grandfather-figure for some of the children who didn’t have grandparents living locally, but the reality was all the children wanted to be with him. Even those who had grandparents living locally. It goes both ways; Jim has no family living in Auckland. Becoming part of the kindy community has given him a sense of family, and a sense of purpose.
Four years ago Jim considered that he had finished everything he had wanted to do in life, and his remaining years lay empty before him, “but then,” he says, “He threw another one at me.” Part of his life’s “work” is unfolding in his twilight years. Jim has become an advocate for seniors getting involved in kindies, both as a cure for loneliness and depression amongst elders, and also as a bridge across the generations, with so many families lacking grandparents close by. He believes that others could also get a great deal out of being part of kindergartens.
There are always opportunities to enrich the lives of others, if one is open to them, and life is not over till it’s over.
Jai, John, Kerrie, Lance, Lisa, Suzy, Varsha