Old lady asks for Harley ride in Christmas charity project

Photo: Olga Štrejbarová

Ježíšek’s grandchildren ( Santa’s grandchildren) is the name of a nationwide charity project launched by Czech Radio. It aims to bring a smile to the faces of abandoned, elderly, people who have no family and friends to cheer them up. The aim is to encourage members of the public to grant these people a wish as a special Christmas gift in a scheme that should interconnect generations and revive the true spirit of Christmas. I spoke to Marietta Prajslerová, one of the project organizers at Czech Radio, about what it involves and how the idea originated.

Photo: Olga Štrejbarová
“This charity project started last year in Jihlava. Our colleague Olga visited an old-age home and she asked the director if people give gifts to the elderly at Christmas the way they give gifts to children in orphanages and he said no one is doing anything like that. So she got the idea to launch this small project in Jihlava to give abandoned elderly people a gift by granting them a wish – be it a material gift or an experience. And she was overwhelmed by the positive response from the public .”

So how does it work?

“Last year it worked so that they put a list of all the wishes on a web page and volunteers chose the wish that they wanted to grant.”

So basically anyone can join in, they just choose a grandma or grandpa whose wish they want to fulfill? What kind of wishes are they granting? What do elderly people ask for?

“You know, their first response is that they do not need anything, they say they are old and do not need anything. But when they are asked again, asked about what they longed for as a child, they start coming up with ideas – either something material like a bicycle, a subscription for a newspaper, or a big clock on the wall. For example one lady asked for a doll, because she longed for a doll when she was a child.”

And many of them want experiences, I understand?

“Yes, they want things like to visit their home town once again, to visit their birthplace or to go on a trip to Prague. Or else they want to meet someone special, celebrities, sportspeople….this year we have an old man who wants to meet the football team Viktoria Plzen. So we are working on it.”

“This year we have an old man who wants to meet the football team Viktoria Plzen.”

I guess for them the biggest gift of all is that someone is interested in them?

“Yes, for them that is really the biggest gift, the fact that someone is interested in them, that someone wants to fulfil their wish.”

So these are elderly people who do not have family coming to visit them, people who don’t have anyone to grant their wishes, or even listen to them for a few minutes and speak to them….

“That’s right, and they do not have many connections outside the home or place where they live. And they are extremely grateful that someone wants to make them happy. That is the main idea behind the project –to make old people happy, to show them that Christmas can be a time of happiness.”

Is this project also the beginning of a special friendship between the people granting these wishes and those whom they chose to help?

“Yes, that’s true. Because last year there were not that many wishes, but we know that the people are still meeting, that the volunteers are still visiting the elderly people whom they helped.”

Who volunteers? Is it mostly young people, or middle-aged people?

“I can say that it is everybody – schoolchildren, the young and middle aged, and even elderly people are volunteering to help other elderly people.”

Photo: Olga Štrejbarová
Is this a nation-wide project then? How does it work? Czech Radio is now coordinating it…

“Yes, this year it is a nationwide project and it is coordinated via a database where old-age homes but also social workers who help the elderly in their own homes list their clients’ wishes. In mid-November we will open this database to volunteers/ donors who will chose the wish they want to fulfill. They will contact the home or social service who will put them in touch with their chosen elderly person.”

That’s before Christmas?

“That’s before Christmas, but because some wishes are special, also later. For instance we have a lady who wants to swim in the pond where she used to swim as a child.”

You are heavily involved in this project –have there been any wishes –last year or this year – that particularly touched you? Wishes that still stick in your mind?

“I have to say that almost all of them. We have some very special wishes. Our first wish this year was from an old lady called Marie, she’s 96 years old, who wanted a small Christmas tree and a doll under it. And she wants a puzzle or cubes with an airplane, because she loves airplanes. She once flew somewhere by plane and really liked it. This is a secret, but we want to give her a really special gift, we want to give her a flight as a gift.”

You will take her up on a plane?

“Yes, we want to surprise her. She did not wish it, but we want to give her something special because hers was the very first wish this year. And we have a lot of other interesting wishes like the meeting with the football team Viktoria Plzen that I mentioned.”

“Sometimes people just do not know how to make the first step and we are helping them make that first step.”

Are there any unusual wishes?

“We had one unusual wish last year. It was from this lady whose husband promised her a ride on a Harley. But her husband died before he could fulfil that promise and when she was asked what she wanted she asked for a ride on a Harley. And there were so many people with Harleys who offered to give her a ride – so this year in the summer she got her wish and took a ride on a Harley –and she was so happy!”

Do these people ever ask you to contact a family member or to see their grandchild or anything like that?

“Yes, that is one of the most common wishes –to visit their family. We have an old lady who wants to travel to Brno to see her grandchildren because she hasn’t seen them in a long, long time. I don’t know why, mostly it is about the family not having the time or not wanting to meet with their elderly relatives, but these people desperately want to see them.”

How do these families respond?

“In this case we have not had any response because we have not contacted them yet, but if it is the case that they do not have the money or time to make the trip, we will be happy to arrange the visit and I think they may start seeing each other again.”

How do these elderly people respond to the sudden interest in them?

“The response is very emotional. In many ways old people are like children – they had a wish and it was granted.”

How many volunteers have you got this year?

Photo: Olga Štrejbarová
“We don’t know, because our database is not open to volunteers yet.”

How many wishes do you have so far then?

“At the moment we have over 150 wishes from old age homes around the country but we hope that the number will grow because this is just the beginning of the project.”

You said there were volunteers among children, middle-aged people, young people –do you think this project will help generations to interconnect?

“Definitely, it is a great idea because sometimes people just do not know how to make the first step and we are helping them make that first step, showing them that there is this possibility to make someone abandoned happy.”

Do you think Czech Radio has established a new tradition here? Will this charity project take place every Christmas?

“We really hope so.”