Growing old can be quite lonely if there are no family members along for the ride. And as most grandparents would tell you, there is nothing as special as having grandchildren to make the road less bumpy.
Unfortunately, the elderly generation is not always lucky enough to have grandchildren close by, if at all. On the flip side, families without grandparents are missing out on potential relationships that can so lovingly bridge generational gaps. The enrichment that comes when children interact with older generations is invaluable, so why not consider “adopting” a senior citizen through your church or an area nursing home? Whether shared experiences consist of baking cookies, doling out wisdom and sage advice, playing games, doing crafts or simply reveling in one another’s company, you and your children can benefit from forming a relationship with a senior citizen while giving a senior in your community the joy that comes from being part of a family.
If your family is interested in connecting with a senior in your area, here are ways to start the “adoption” process:
- Check to see if your community has a centralized volunteer action office or other community-service organization which offers a program to match senior citizens with families.
- Talk to your church about a program to bring older and younger members together. Even if it doesn’t have a dedicated avenue for making these connections, many church activities are multigenerational by nature – game nights, community meals, book discussion groups and so forth. Take your children to these events, make a point to start conversations with senior church members and go from there. Or ask church staff if they could recommend an elderly church member who could use extra companionship. If time allows, you could even start a group which includes youth and elderly to help foster relationships between generations.
3. Contact administrators or activities directors at assisted-living centers and nursing homes to see how you might be able to “adopt” one of their residents. Depending on the age and interests of your children, they could read to or with a senior; share their musical skills by playing piano or another instrument at the facility; make cards and crafts for or with them; listen to their stories; or invite them to grandparents’ day at school, if they are able to take trips away from their home.
4. If your children’s scout troop or 4-H club doesn’t already have a project that involves helping senior citizens, suggest one. As a group, they could adopt a senior or senior couple and provide assistance or companionship in various capacities.
5. Schools and clubs increasingly encourage volunteerism. With the cooperation of a teacher or advisor, students can help seniors in many of the ways described above, as well as invite them to the classroom to speak about childhood or lifetime experiences, such as growing up on a farm or serving in a war. There is so much history to be shared, and seniors will likely be eager to share their life stories.
If “adoption” is not for you…
If you want to give your children the intergenerational experience, but not connect with just one senior or senior citizen couple, you may wish to interact through group activities.
Take your children to visit nursing homes or home-bound seniors on a regular basis or around special holidays. Encourage your children to write, draw, make crafts, call and visit frequently. Make it a family tradition to remember special seniors on birthdays and holidays throughout the year. Anything you do to include them, big or small, is likely to brighten their day. Your children, in turn, will learn the joy of giving, the rewards of listening and lessons for life that come from spending time with those who have rich history to share.