BURLINGTON, Vt. – On a quiet Thursday afternoon, seniors at the Elderwood Nursing Home were greeted by a flurry of energetic elementary students and began grinning ear-to-ear.
“It makes us feel young,” said Sally Vachereau, a resident at the home.
Several months of get-togethers between a group of Burlington elementary students and seniors at the nursing home has created a special bond that bridges the generational gap.
Children in J.J. Flynn Elementary School’s afterschool program have spent their Thursday afternoons working on arts and crafts projects with the seniors, who they refer to as their ‘grandpals’.
Rosie Friedman and Emi Eakin, both University of Vermont medical students, designed the program earlier this year as part of the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship program. They wanted a way to connect with the greater Burlington community, and a desire to involve both seniors and children lead them to the Elderwood Nursing Home, located adjacent to the elementary school.
They knew it would be a unique way to connect two vastly different groups, but had no idea how powerful that connection would be.
“The seniors fully light up when the kids arrive,” Friedman said. “They say ‘When are they coming?’ They’re constantly watching the lobby for them.”
Likewise, the children, all between third and fifth grade, run to their tables and eagerly anticipate their ‘grandpals’.
“We didn’t know if it was going to have that kind of impact on the kids,” Eakin said. “I’m proud of the way they’ve adapted and how much they’re able to have a friendship here.”
They said one of the seniors is an artist, and for a few visits, she created lesson plans and felt it was an empowering experience to be able to bring her skills to the table. She knew the kids were counting on her.
Learning, however, isn’t a one-way street.
“They help us,” Vachereau said. “We’ve learned a lot from them!”
For their last visit, they all took Polaroid pictures together and created small frames to keep them in – a special memory they’ll always have.
Despite it being their last meeting, one student named Dakyya has one more visit planned with her ‘grandpal’ Hellen – Christmas Day.
“We’re going to come here with my mom and my two brothers,” Dakyya said. “We’re going to see Hellen. She said she has no family, so we’re going to get her a present.”