Bonding across generations

Windsor Run partners with St. Gabriel School

Created date

September 26th, 2019
Windsor Run community member Bob Mack (far right) spends quality time with the four students from St. Gabriel School who wrote about his life.

Windsor Run community member Bob Mack (far right) spends quality time with the four students from St. Gabriel School who wrote about his life.

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

Last year, in an effort to expand Windsor Run’s outreach within the local community, Resident Life Coordinator Becky Dinello organized an inspiring intergenerational program to bring together community members and fourth graders at St. Gabriel School in Charlotte. 

Now in its second year, the program has no trouble finding Windsor Run volunteers eager to share life lessons and spend time with the children.

“The students are fun to spend time with,” says community member Maureen Broderick. “They have a high energy level, are very polite, and ask hundreds of questions.”

“I believe the program is one of the best initiatives at Windsor Run,” says community member Robert “Bob” Mack. “As a new and growing community with a vibrant residency, I believe this program will be sustained for many years.”

A seed takes root

Last September, to kick off the project’s inaugural year, Dinello visited the students and introduced them to the Windsor Run community. 

“I read to them the book The Grannyman by Judith Byron Schachner, which explores the many ways in which young, vibrant students can learn from and, in turn, bring purpose and joy to those who are older.”

Next, it was the students’ turn to visit Windsor Run. In October, 110 fourth graders dressed in Halloween costumes and came to the community to meet the residents and sing their favorite songs. In December, they made a second visit to celebrate the holidays with songs and socializing.

“During one of the visits, we toured the clubhouse and the students loved what they saw,” says Maureen. “One of the girls said she couldn’t wait to get old so she could move here. When I showed them the room where I teach line dancing, they asked me to teach them a dance. I taught them two easy dances, and the next two times they came to visit, I brought music and we danced together.” 

Sharing life lessons

When the students visited a third time in late February and March, they were divided into small groups of four to five to interview a resident or their “grand-buddy,” a Windsor Run community member who volunteered for the project. 

“Each of the four students I was paired with took turns interviewing me,” says Bob. “I was impressed with their directness and intuitiveness. It was cute.”

The students then took their interview answers back to their classrooms to write and illustrate a biography of their grand-buddy.

In May, the students returned to Windsor Run to deliver their masterpieces, 26 in total, to the residents they interviewed. Each hardcover book was carefully handmade with a table of contents, group photo, hand-drawn pictures of the residents, their favorite memories, and an “About the Author” section complete with photos of the students themselves. 

“The books are simply beautiful in every way,” says Becky. “There is no other book on earth like these personalized works of love and art.”

The community members for whom the books were written, agree.

“The book is worth a million dollars,” says Phyllis Jordan. “No, it’s more than that. It’s priceless.”

“My favorite part of the book is the artwork the students created to enhance their writing,” says Maureen.

Above and beyond

For many Windsor Run neighbors, the partnership continues beyond the program’s organized activities. Several residents continue to visit St. Gabriel to share lunch with the students, and others recently attended their school play The Lion King

“Three of my friends and I went to see the play,” says Maureen. “The girls were thrilled that we came. We took lots of pictures and even met their parents.”

Bob also plans to keep in touch with each of the students he worked with. 

“They’re all going to do something great someday,” he says.  

“When I asked the students for their favorite part about the project, the most common response was, ‘Getting to know my grand-buddy and learning what their lives are like,’” says Becky.

In turn, the students left an indelible imprint on the hearts and minds of the Windsor Run community members.

“Spending time with the students made me feel like I was revisiting times spent with our own grandchildren when they were that age,” says Bob. “I was so impressed with my group of kids that if adoption were an option, I would have exercised it.”

“I developed such close bonds with the four students I was paired with,” says Maureen. “I looked forward to each of their visits. They were always happy to arrive and sorry when it was time to leave.”

Currently, Dinello is working with a new group of Windsor Run residents, who, based on the experiences of their neighbors, are eager to participate in the program with St. Gabriel’s new crop of fourth graders.

“This program is the best thing I’ve been associated with, and I couldn’t be happier to collaborate with the amazing staff and students at St. Gabriel and the wonderful residents of Winsor Run,” she says.