I was reminded recently of the small moments of connection and light that can occur when young teens go to visit seniors in living facilities. I was visiting an intergenerational program with the middle school Jewish Community Center campers at Brookdale Lake Orienta in Altamonte Springs. Walter Goldstein, The Jewish Pavilion’s intergenerational program coordinator, planned and led the 2 hour afternoon program.
It was a large group of kids—about 40 young teens filled the commons area with the buzz of chatter and the barely suppressed energy they all seem to have in endless supply. The seniors were fewer in number, but they seemed patient and game—and not at all bothered by the unusual noise and spirits that had descended on this typically calm and orderly place.
When they all split off in small groups to play games, color in adult coloring books, or simply have a chat, I moved around the room to talk with the various participants and take some photos. I could see that the initial awkward stage of being grouped with people you don’t already know wore off remarkably fast, and soon the kids and adults were engaged together and having a great time. By the time the kids had to leave, many of them were talking to the seniors like old friends.
Many of the teens I spoke with individually said essentially the same thing: the seniors they had spent time with reminded them of a grandparent, or it felt like they had connected with a senior as though he or she was the teen’s grandparent.
Maybe its because, in many families, grandchildren and grandparents don’t see each other frequently, but I’ve noticed that it’s often easy for children and seniors to quickly strike up relationships that seem to mirror a typical grandchild and grandparent relationship.
I remember that phenomenon with my own children when I chaperoned visits to senior living facilities for their Hebrew school classes or youth groups. I saw that grandparent and grandchild dynamic playing out again and again with my kids and others. Usually by the time we were ready to leave, my daughter or son would be paired up with a particular senior and fully engaged in helping him or her, or chatting or playing, depending on the program.
At the time, my mom was living in South Florida. We saw her about every 4 to 8 weeks. My husband’s parents lived in Richmond, Virginia, far away from our Maitland home. We saw them maybe twice a year.
The bottom line was, my kids missed their grandparents when they weren’t around. But because they had relationships with seniors they loved, they knew how to talk to and behave around seniors they didn’t know. And that instinct also works in the other direction, apparently.
It’s clear that both groups benefit in many ways from connecting with each other. What a wonderful thing for our community that The Jewish Pavilion’s intergenerational program is able to arrange many such gatherings throughout the year!