Through letters and visits, Green Park Lutheran School students build special intergenerational relationships with residents of Laclede Groves Senor Living, a Lutheran Senior Services (LSS) Life Plan Community in Webster Groves, Missouri.
“It is a joy to educate my students on how we grow and change, how we learn from others, how I value the lessons my parents and grandparents taught me, the joy of showing value to our elders, and how we continue to pray for one another,” said Ruthann Gieseke, third grade teacher at Green Park Lutheran School.
Gieseke began the Intergenerational Friendship Connection program years ago when she saw how meaningful a visit from school children was for her parents, who resided in a senior living community at the time. Inspired, she began a similar program that has evolved over the years.
“My goal is to bring some happiness to residents while teaching my students the joy of serving others,” she said.
Each school year she introduces the program to her new third grade students, and by mid- September they have prepared a mailing: a letter and art project from each student and a cover letter from Gieseke explaining the program to residents.
“The blessing of this program is for students to learn to ‘serve’ others without getting anything back in return,” said Gieseke. Students do not expect letters in return, though some adults do write back. When they do reply, the student gets to read the letter first, and then reads it to the whole class. “Students also learn to value the experiences of older adults, extending beyond their grandparents and family members.”
When health restrictions permit, students visit their friends at Laclede Groves. “On our first visit, students ask older adults questions, learning to look someone they have just met in the eyes, and talk and listen to them,” said Gieseke. Together they learn about each other and complete a Venn-diagram showing things they have in common and things that are unique about each other. They also have lunch together and students take the older adults’ lunch orders and serve them. Following lunch, they perform a program with the residents, singing songs together. The students also enjoy a tour of the Laclede Groves community, admiring the art room, movie theater, pools, chapel, and more.
“This becomes an eye opener for students and my parents who accompany us on this outing! Children and adults learn about this loving, caring community,” said Gieseke. After the tour, the students offer to walk their resident friends back to their apartments (along with an adult). “Sometimes the residents have items they love to show the children. Students come back and talk about their ‘new friend!’ My students kept their friend’s pictures on the front of their desk all year,” Gieseke added.
Angie Wilson, Executive Director of Laclede Groves Senior Living Community, believes this program has been beneficial for everyone involved. “These intergenerational relationships are so beautiful to watch blossom. I see great benefits for both the older adults and the younger people as they learn about each other’s experiences and perspectives,” said Angie.
Some friendships grow so strong that the student and their family continue visiting their special friend on their own, meeting up to ride bikes, lending a helping hand, or holding gatherings simply to talk about what’s new.
“By the end of the year, special friendships have formed. Some students and older adults do write to one another and stay in touch,” Gieseke said.
When former students reach out to Gieseke, they all fondly reminisce about the Intergenerational Friendship Connection.
“This intergenerational friendship connection is such a joy measured in smiles and happiness,” said Gieseke.