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So much to give, everything to gain

Adopt-a-Grandparent program benefits volunteers, students

Created date

February 26th, 2013

Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani once remarked, What children need most are the essentials that grandparents provide in abundance. They give unconditional love, kindness, patience, humor, comfort, lessons in life, and, most importantly, cookies. Members of the Adopt-a-Grandparent program at Ashby Ponds, an Erickson Living community in Ashburn, Va., share all this and more with the children at Farmwell Station Middle School. It s a fun program, says grandmother Pat Stevens. We all have a lot to gain from the experience. The children really enjoy the time we spend together. And we are learning so much from the time spent with them.

Reaching out

Ashby Ponds grandparents began visiting students at Farmwell Station Middle School during the 2011 2012 school year. Ashby Ponds Community Resources Coordinator Elisabeth Longworth works with teachers at the school to develop activities that benefit both the children and the grandparent volunteers. Our most popular meetings are those that engage the children in conversations with the grandparents, says Longworth. We do not assign students to a particular grandparent, but relationships form quickly and many of the students go back to the same person each time. All of the student participants are in grades 6 8 and members of the school s Leos, Nanas and Papa s Club, a program designed to provide opportunities for the students to contribute to their community. When the program began last year, we were hopeful that the residents at Ashby Ponds would agree to build a partnership with our school, says Suman Henehan, a 7th grade learning specialist at the school. We are so glad they agreed. The student response has been overwhelming. They love interacting with the Ashby Ponds residents. We currently have over 20 students who attend our meetings.

Win-win

I love kids, says Ann Wilkinson, who previously enjoyed a career as a kindergarten teacher. I love being around them. I find that the kids rejuvenate me. They, too, have much to gain from the experience. They are all very eager to spend time playing games and engaging with us. It s a wonderful program. Experts agree that the bonds formed between the students and the grandparents benefit all. According to the Healthy Aging Partnership (HAP), a nonprofit organization dedicated to the health and well-being of older adults, Interactions with young people allow older adults to relate to another generation, learn about new technology and trends, and serve as role models for children growing into tomorrow s adults. The children, as well, benefit from these interactions. HAP stresses that, The attention and example provided by a senior mentor is invaluable. Children who have difficulty relating to their immediate families may respond well to a caring older adult. There are two boys in the program who have grandparents who live in another country, says volunteer Nancy Oliphant. It is clear that they enjoy the time we spend with them. I am happy that we can give them an experience that they would otherwise not have. Nancy, a retired schoolteacher, has always enjoyed time spent with children. In addition to the Adopt-a-Grandparent program, she also volunteers her time at the nearby Steuart W. Weller Elementary School. I have to thank the kids, she says. They keep me young.

Eye-opening experience

Like Pat and Ann, more than half of the Ashby Ponds volunteer grandparents were teachers or worked with children over the course of their careers. The Adopt-a-Grandparent program provides the opportunity to continue doing what they love. I was not a teacher but a docent at the Smithsonian s Natural History Museum for many years, says Mary Weisman. Middle school children had a reputation for being difficult so I asked to work with them. I found that the reputation was unfounded. The kids are a joy. Grace McGraw has been grandparenting at the school since the program began. I enjoy learning what s going on in their world. I ve found it very enlightening, she says. Grace touches upon a common topic discussed among the grandparents: the differences they find between their childhoods and those of today s youth. I grew up with a grandfather from Switzerland, says Ann. We were taught not to speak until spoken to. That s just not the way it is anymore. Many of these children are confident and well spoken. They are eager to talk with us. They all seem so mature for their ages, says Marie Fama. I believe a lot of that has to do with their access to and use of technology. I certainly enjoy learning from them. In fact, I thought my two grown granddaughters would be jealous of the young girl I spend time with. But they weren t. They wanted to see a picture of my new granddaughter.

Powerful partnership

The joys, benefits, and laughs resulting from the Ashby Ponds-Farmwell Station Middle School partnership ensures that the Adopt-a-Grandparent program will continue for many years to come. In her book Grandparenthood, Joan Robertson discovered that, Grandchildren do not see grandparents as old-fashioned or out of touch but rather feel they are an important source of influence on them. According to the Ashby Ponds grandparents, it s a two-way street. Whether we ve worked with children or have children and grandchildren of our own, the time we spend at the school gives us all a lot of joy, says Beth Kraft. I know we all leave looking forward to our next visit.

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