Kids and seniors share stories, laughs at Highland Park nursing home
on Friday, 03 August 2012.
This article by Seth Augenstein originally appeared in the Star Ledger. To read the full article, click here.
Bridging more than 80 years took only a single story for Shoshana Urman and Olive Brannen.
Urman, 5, and Brannen, 93, bonded over one picture book, which led to another and another, over the course of regular storytime hours at the Francis E. Parker Memorial Home. The speed with which they became friends surprised everyone – including themselves.
"She sort of took to me – I don't know why," Brannen says now. "We just related to each other."
The two met in an intergenerational program bringing together the shouts and laughs of children with a lifetime of stories of stories and lessons from the adults who live at the Highland Park nursing home and active adult community.
Some 60 kids come to the Parker home regularly, ranging in age from infants to 6 year olds, according to Robin Kessler, the director of the Parker home's child development center. The experts say it teaches the kids a bit about life, and lights up the faces of seniors, too.
The kids call their elders "grandma" or "grandpa." And several different groups of kids visit weekly, rotating a constant visiting schedule for the seniors who wait for company, Kessler said. Together they tend to gardens, play games, makes arts and crafts, read stories, and just generally socialize with one another.
Connie Landis, 88, resides in the assisted living part of Parker, while her husband Sam lives in the nursing home section of the Parker home. Connie Landis said having the kids around lights up the place.
"You see people with walkers and wheelchairs – and all of a sudden, you see these beautiful children," she said. "Even though Sam had a stroke, and doesn't always remember things, he still sings with the children – it brings all the old songs back to him."
Most days are just routine gameplaying, reading stories, tending to the garden, talking and laughing, says the Parker staff. But there are the special events, too. They have a special storytime next week, and an Andy Warhol-themed get-together for later in the month. Just yesterday a clown came in to do face painting and to teach a bit about joking around.
"The grandmas loved it," Landis said.
There are a handful of other intergenerational programs like Parker's in New Jersey recognized by the group Generations United. One is the Shady Lane Child Development Center & Nursing Home in Clarksboro, and there are the Friendship Center at Schooley's Mountain and the Heath Village Retirement Community in Hackettstown. The Roselle Intergenerational Garden is also listed as a separate site.