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‘I love kids’

The Ashby-Farmwell Friendship Club builds strong bonds

Created date

April 12th, 2016
Former kindergarten teacher Ann Wilkinson (center) with Farmwell Station middle school students.

Former kindergarten teacher Ann Wilkinson (center) enjoys sharing a snack with Farmwell Station middle school students. “They rejuvenate me,” she says.

“A child needs a grandparent, anybody’s grandparent, to grow a little more securely into an unfamiliar world.” —Charles and Ann Morse

Taking these words to heart, members of the Ashby-Farmwell Friendship Club at Ashby Ponds, an Erickson Living community in Ashburn, Va., have been making a difference in the lives of students at Farmwell Station Middle School since 2011. 

On the second Thursday of each month, 10–12 Ashby Ponds community members travel to the nearby school to visit with the students. Their time together is spent playing board games, sharing and talking about talents and hobbies, participating in arts and crafts projects, and enjoying a snack. 

“I love kids,” says Ashby Ponds community member 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.”

The benefits of the Ashby-Farmwell Friendship Club reach far and wide.

“Many of our students live far away from their extended families and grandparents,” says Mindi Huggins, a seventh grade social studies teacher at the school and one of the program sponsors. “Our partnership with Ashby Ponds provides our students the chance to connect to and talk with people from an older generation. This connection is very important because middle schoolers today can be very insular, hanging out only with people their own age. This club gives the students an opportunity to talk to people from a different generation and learn from their experiences.”

“The connection is also important for the seniors,” she says. “Many of them may not have grandchildren living in the area. The club gives them a chance to connect with the younger generation.”

Far-reaching benefits

Experts agree that intergenerational relationships offer a win-win for everyone involved. According to “Benefits of Intergenerational Connections,” a report by Susan V. Bosak, chair of The Legacy Project, “The involvement of a reliable, caring adult in a child’s life helps the child develop higher self-esteem, better emotional and social skills, (including the ability to withstand peer pressure), and potentially earn better grades in school.” 

“Our most popular meetings are those that engage the children in conversations with Ashby Ponds community members,” says Ashby Ponds Community Resources Coordinator Casey Hamrick. “We do not assign students to a particular senior, but relationships form quickly. Many of the students go back to the same person each time.”

The importance of these connections is staggering. A study by Big Brothers Big Sisters of America showed that “when a child is mentored by an adult, they are 46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs, 27% less likely to begin using alcohol, 52% less likely to skip school.”

The monthly meetings with the Ashby Ponds volunteers also provide the students an important opportunity to make personal connections in an age where, thanks to computers and texting, they spend little time connecting, one-on-one, with mature adults.

“I most enjoy talking with the 11–14 year olds and comparing the differences in our lives when we were their ages,” says Ashby Ponds’ resident group leader Pat Hemmer. “It’s also fun to learn what we have in common. I’ve discovered that we don’t have the same taste in television shows or music, but we agree on our love of chocolate.”

The Farmwell Station students also benefit from the fact that many of the Ashby Ponds community members participating in the program are former teachers.

Participating in the program since 2012, Nancy Oliphant was an elementary school and early childhood teacher for more than 30 years.  

“The kids are so bubbly and exciting,” she says.  “Each time we meet, we do different activities, talk, play games, and enjoy a snack. 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.”

Other side of the coin

While it’s clear the children get a lot out of the program, Bosak’s study also found that “involved older adults with close intergenerational connections consistently report much less depression, better physical health, and higher degrees of life satisfaction.”

“My grandchildren were teenagers when we moved to Ashby Ponds,” says club member Harriet Hunt. “We were so happy to have them nearby. But now they have grown up and moved to California. I miss them very much. I enjoy the opportunity this club gives me to spend time with other young people at the middle school.”

“My grandkids don’t live nearby either,” says Pat. “I don’t see them as often as I would like. This club provides a wonderful opportunity to spend time talking and connecting with great kids.”

Powerful partnership

The pure joy resulting from the Ashby-Farmwell Friendship Club ensures that the program will continue for many years to come. 

“Our students really look forward to the monthly activities,” says Suman Henehan, a learning specialist at Farmwell Station Middle School who has been involved in the program since its inception. 

“When we started the club, we felt that all parties involved would benefit from the interaction where students and seniors could share experiences and stories,” she says. 

Now, six years later, that is exactly what is happening.

“I’ll always remember how one Ashby Ponds resident shared with me, after a club meeting, that she was so full of joy after receiving a hug from a student wishing her a great summer. The student told her that she hoped to see her again next year.”

“The kids are a joy,” says Harriet. “They are eager to talk with us, and we all gain so much from our time together.”

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