Students, Seniors Kick Off New Year of Intergenerational Activities

Students at French Ford Middle school and residents of Humboldt General Hospital's long-term care facility have begun a new year of bridge building between today's youth and the elderly.

Following in a tradition begun by teacher Maryjo Dufurrena, Lila Wilkin's fifth-grade class is now making monthly trips to Harmony Manor to visit with residents and to do fun crafts and activities.

The intergenerational exchange began two years ago, and this year, Mrs. Wilkin was offered the chance to take over. She said her response was simply: "Oh, could I?"

"I love this!" she continued, "I have a great class and they are wonderful."

Harmony Manor Activities Director Robin Moore said this year's students kicked off their 2013-2014 exchange in September with a simple craft and snacks. Each month will feature another craft or activity. By the end of the school year, the students will not only have made some special memories, they will also have a new group of friends.

"This has been a fantastic thing, not only for our residents but for the students as well," said Moore of the intergenerational get-togethers.

Moore said the monthly interactions give the children an opportunity to become familiar with the issues of aging, which can involve wheelchairs, life support equipment, intravenous equipment, or disabilities associated with getting older.

For their part, Moore said the monthly interactions give residents the opportunity to reminisce about activities they may have been involved in as children, and to share them with the youth.

Mrs. Wilkin said some of her students were a little nervous at first about their monthly visits. "There was a little bit of reservation there for some," she said, while other students who had experience with an older loved one "were busy reassuring the others."

"But now look at them," said a smiling Mrs. Wilkin during the September activity as small clusters of children and the elderly gathered around tin foil, clay, tongue depressors, pom poms and other assorted craft items. "They are so excited; they teach me so much."

One resident of Harmony Manor said she can't do many of the activities due to complications from diabetes, "but I just love being with the students," she said. "It's good for us and good for them."

Dorothy Brinkoetter was visiting a friend at Harmony Manor when the children arrived for their monthly visit. She said her friend hardly ever participates in social activities, "but this draws her out. She loves being with the youth."

Moore said that's the idea behind the exchange. "We want these two groups to realize that friendship is timeless. It has nothing to do with age, location or circumstance, but is simply the product of an open and willing heart."