There’s a saying that goes “old people are just young people who’ve been living a long time.” It’s no surprise then how well the two groups connect when given the right opportunity. Or how meaningful the relationships between seniors and children can be for both. It’s why intergenerational programs are becoming more and more popular around the globe, including at Brookdale Senior Living.
Research shows children need four to six mature adults involved in their lives to fully develop emotionally and socially. At the other end of the spectrum, evidence links community engagement to longevity and life satisfaction in seniors.
Specifically, connecting with children in the community helps to energize seniors and reduce the likelihood of depression and isolation. Children gain an extended social network and a more positive attitude towards aging. Both find a greater sense of purpose and may even learn some new skills from each other.
Brookdale has certainly taken the cue from the individual and collective growth these relationships enable with intergenerational programs in a number of its communities. One such community is Brookdale Sun City West Sandridge, which has partnered with a local school, Nadaburg Elementary.
“About four years ago, Donna Bone, a teacher from Nadaburg, contacted us and said they are always looking for ways to be connected, [and] could the children come visit the community?” said Penelope Weber, Resident Programs manager of Brookdale Sun City West Sandridge. “When you mention children to our residents, it’s a huge draw, so we were thrilled to take part.”
The community hosts Nadaburg students from kindergarten through third grade throughout the year.
On certain holidays the children may perform a program, and they come in their costumes for Halloween. Each visit the children bring something they’ve made to give residents in the audience and spend a bit of one-on-one time with them. Brookdale resident Pat Grier often leads the children and residents through storytime in front of the fireplace in the community’s living room. Pat taught elementary school for more than 25 years, so she is always excited to experience the joy of teaching once more.
“Reading was always my biggest thing. I love reading to children and even do the characters and voices of who I’m reading about,” she said.
You’ll always find her with a prop for the occasion, and she has even dressed as Godfrey the Ghost (a costume from her teaching days) for Halloween and as a turkey for Thanksgiving!
“Pat lost the use of one arm and one leg around the time this program began, and I give her credit that she is simply unstoppable. If I say the kids are coming, do you mind reading to them? It’s always a yes,” Penelope said.
The kids are always treated to a pizza lunch and get a special treat before leaving. Plus, the community donates each book Pat reads to the school’s library.
“It’s an absolute joy; sometimes we have 40-plus children. They love to go into the audience to get hugs from residents. It’s made such an impact that even the superintendent of the school has come out with the group. That this program is important enough for that is amazing,” said Penelope.
The residents enjoy it as well, delighting in how the kids really take time to talk to them.
Penelope said that, in particular, Pat’s life has grown and changed in so many different ways since the start of the program. Her family is in California, and with them at such a distance, “she can’t be close to her grands.”
“But I can see it in her face as she looks into the faces of these little ones; she just lights up,” Penelope said.
Both Pat and Penelope believe they are so fortunate to have partnered with Nadaburg.
“It’s one of the reasons I love it here so much,” Pat said.
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