The children excitedly walked from Hayden Child Care Center to meet with their adopted “grandmas and grandpas” from the Skilled Nursing and Assisted Living centers at Santa Teresita. Because the child care center and residential nursing facilities are on the same campus, the walk was not far, but to the excited children, this walk seemed like a mile. They finally arrived at their destination and began the day’s task- coloring with the grandmas and grandpas during the inter-generational activities program. One student in particular was concentrated on his work. With a crayon clutched in one hand and the other arm outstretched across the table, he dutifully colored his page. To anyone who has experienced the daily life of a child under the age of six, this scene is not unfamiliar or unique, but this particular situation was different because the outstretched arm of the child was not reaching for a different color or another coloring sheet. Instead, he was holding the paper of the elderly resident who was unable to use one of her arms so that she could still color.
This example is one of many beautiful encounters that take place during the C.A.R.E. program. The Children and Residents Enrichment, C.A.R.E., Program is the inter-generational activities program at Santa Teresita where Seniors from Manor Skilled Nursing, Bethany Residential Care, and the Good Shepherd Cottage Assisted Living engage with the children of Hayden Child Care Center for crafts, fine arts, and other educational activities. This concept has existed since Hayden Child Care Center opened in 1967. In 2006, the program was more formalized so that there was a greater focus on one-on-one relational activities. Sister Mary Patrice, the directress of Hayden Child Care Center, explained that each child is paired with a resident at the beginning of the school year. Each week, the classes go to visit the residents. Because of the number of classes, there is a group of students interacting with the residents almost every day during the school week.
The teachers at Hayden Child Care Center and the staff members at the residential healthcare have commented on the positive
effects of these activities. The family members of the residents have also noticed on the benefits of this type of program. Jean Beckman, the daughter of Tom Wilson who was a previous resident of the Manor Skilled Nursing and Bethany Residential Care, wrote, “One of the most unique experiences in which Dad was able to participate is the cross-generational interaction with the Hayden Daycare Center, also contained within the Santa Teresita campus. Twice a week, he was shuttled to the center, where he tutored three- and four-year-olds in learning to write their names and the alphabet. He and the other residents also interacted with the children in a variety of programs held on the campus, including various holiday festivities. I don’t know if it was divine intervention that inspired this extraordinary idea, but it is a brilliant concept. One cannot begin to describe how the interaction between the generations benefits both age groups! The elders enjoy watching and engaging with the children, and the preschoolers are able to intermingle with the gentle and patient seniors, who share their wisdom and laughter. To some extent, this provides a re-creation of a type of nuclear family for many of these children, some of whom do not have stable family situations. It also provides an opportunity for the older generation to express and pass along their understanding of a value system that is not always predominant today. I can’t tell you how much Dad looked forward to this invigorating contact every week, and most importantly, he felt needed. This is a unique concept within the realm of elderly care.”
The love for this program is most certainly felt amongst the children as well. When asked about his time with the “grandmas and grandpas”, one student commented, “I like to play magnets with the grandmas and grandpas.” Another student mentioned, “We built a tree to decorate it,” and a third student chimed in excitedly, “Yeah! A Christmas tree!”
The joy and love that is a result of the C.A.R.E. program extends beyond typical enjoyment that accompanies other types of extracurricular activities because it is based on building and cultivating relationships among two different generations who are gifted in giving and receiving love. Through these beautiful interactions, both generations are able to more fully experience the wisdom and vibrancy of life, resulting in occasions that are a joy for both the young and the young at heart!