Intergenerational Program brings students and seniors together

Posted on October 12, 2016

When Carla Praticante from the Camrose Composite High School first contacted The Bethany Group, it was to set in motion an idea she’d been contemplating for some years.

“I had thought about this for a number of years, but more seriously about a year ago when I was visiting my grandmother who lived in Willow Cottage at Bethany Meadows. One summer day, I took her out for a walk to visit her friend in another cottage, and these two little ole gals sat and shared stories and memories about the old days on the farm.”

She remembers sitting and listening to the two women reminisce. “They were in their 90s and they laughed and had so much fun visiting. It made me think about the incredible wisdom that our seniors have that we’re not tapping into.”

Her visits soon included her son, who often would play his guitar for his grandmother. Sometimes her neighbours in the cottage would come and listen while the two sat together.

As Carla says, “The time shared was valuable for both him and for her during that time. I thought, there has to be other kids and seniors who would benefit from having this type of relationship. As a teacher, I thought, we have the kids and The Bethany Group has the seniors.”

Of course, before Carla could talk to The Bethany Group, she had to make sure there was a group of students willing to participate. This is where Philip Bailey and his class came in.

“I  talked to Philip first and we came up with some initial ideas on how it may work, and then we met with folks at Bethany Group.”

The Intergenerational Program was introduced to bring students and residents together in a purposeful, mutually beneficial way through activities that encouraged conversations and meaningful interactions.

The Bethany Group’s Recreation Therapy and Crossroads departments participated in the program and developed activities that would work for both groups. The clients were chosen from the Rosehaven Provincial Program, Crossroads, and the Louise Jensen Care Centre. They were selected based on their cognitive abilities, as well as their interest and willingness to participate. Other programming was also a factor in when the clients could participate.

The same willingness to participate held true with the students. “I started out with 15 students and I think at the end we had 13 still coming,” said Philip. “I had a dream class this year.”

The first activity the students and seniors did together was an icebreaker to encourage the two groups to talk to one another. From there, they did several different activities including playing cards and painting.

As Lisa Robertson, Recreation Therapist, noted, “I have a resident who I call my ‘butterfly’. He’s a quiet man and wasn’t into doing a lot of crafty things but joined because his grandson was one of the students. The program really strengthened their relationship and before you knew it, the resident was looking forward to doing the activities.”

When it came to playing cards, a few people were surprised when many of the students didn’t know the suits. “I was kind of shocked,” said Philip. “Playing cards is a huge part of the older generation but the kids had never played before. It’s something we take for granted but for them it’s not part of their life.”

The students particularly enjoyed talking to two of the residents, who entertained them all with stories and encouraged the students to chat. Philip said, “The kids got quite a bit out of the interactions. It was great for them to come to The Bethany Group and not be judged. They’re seen just as kids without any stigma or pressure.”

Carla adds, “I also think it’s great that the kids start to see the seniors as more than old people. They begin to view them as individuals with a life, a story and often a great sense of humour. They begin to realize how much they have in common despite the age gap. Everyone feels valued both young and old.”

One of the clients that proved particularly popular amongst the students was Marlene. An enthusiastic person who loves to entertain and encourage those around her to participate, she brought the kids out of their shells and didn’t let them not talk. She also enjoyed her time with them, saying about the program, “I enjoyed immensely to interact with the students – playing cards, painting rocks, bingo. I had an awesome time and I’d do it again. Sitting and having conversations with the kids! Man, we had an awesome time.”

While some of the stories the seniors shared could get quite colorful, both Philip and Carla see it as part of life. Carla commented, “Talking to them you learn such interesting tidbits of information, they have seen and been through so many unique and sometimes colorful experiences that the students wouldn’t have expected.”

The interactions also extended beyond the confines of The Bethany Groups’ atrium where many of the activities took place. A story told by the teachers and recreation therapists involves a student who was with his friends down by Mirror Lake when he saw one of the seniors. Without hesitation, the student went and visited with him. It is these moments that prove the program a success, bringing together different generations in meaningful ways.

For the clients at The Bethany Group, interacting with teenagers was a treat. Lisa commented, “We don’t get older kids that often, kids that can relate. They are their own people. They have independent thoughts, ask questions and have conversations. Usually, we have little kids visiting so the interaction and programs we do with them are simpler.”

The other benefit of the program was that it involved a larger group than usual. This allowed the therapists to let the clients just ‘be’ and do activities at the same level as the teenagers.

Philip and Carla also agree that the program was a huge benefit for the students. “I think the kids would come back again if they had a chance. They definitely gained some confidence coming here and talking to the seniors. Kids are told to not talk to strangers their entire lives and to be able to come and have a conversation about anything and everything was great for them.”

Everyone involved in the program hopes it will continue, depending on the next year’s students’ willingness to participate. In its first year, the program ran for two months every other week. The hopes are that the program can include more activities on a regular basis throughout the year, allowing for more interactions and connections between the two groups.

As noted by both the teachers and the therapists, everyone left all smiles and joking at the end of the day.