Throughout the school year, the seventh-grade girls at Politz Hebrew Academy and women of the seniors group of the Jewish Community Centers Klein Branch have reached out to one another in three programs keyed to Jewish holidays.
"The students have come to understand that seniors are active, vibrant people whose lives have been enriched by their experiences," said Besie Katz, the school's principal.
And for the seniors "sharing time and meals has been a delight," said Barbara Shotz, director of senior services for the Klein Branch. "They look at these students with their Jewish education and knowledge and kvell over them like their own. The girls have given them hope in the future and brightened their days."
The program, "Juniors and Seniors: An Intergenerational Program," was funded, in part, by a social action grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's Center for Social Responsibility.
"When we asked for proposals for the social action grants, this was exactly the kind of program we had in mind," said Jessica Charmont, Federation's Senior Mitzvah Project Planner. "It carries out Federation's priority of caring for seniors."
The program began in the fall around the time of Sukkot when the students visited the Klein Branch and met with the seniors to play "break the ice" games, entertained with some songs and shared refreshments.
"At first the girls were shy and not sure what to do," said Shotz. "Now, there is a more easygoing relationship. The seniors look forward to the exchange visits, often asking: 'When is the next time we'll be with them?' "
At the post-Purim meeting of the groups in March, "the girls made lunch at the school for us – including a delicious vegetable soup from scratch – and sat with us and we talked to one another about their school work, and what we do at the Klein Branch," said guest Doris Gordon. "When we left we could tell they really enjoyed having us there."
"Each girl wanted to make the lunch perfect, and ended up 'adopting' a small group of seniors," said Katz.
"The girls were sensitive and anticipated the seniors' needs, such as making sure they came in the entrance that was easiest to access."
The two groups came together right before Shavuot, on May 31 at the Klein Branch, which was the last of this year's intergenerational programs. The sixth-grade Girls Choir performed and the group did a crafts project with them, and everyone enjoyed a pizza lunch.
"Everyone involved is thrilled that this program will continue in the fall," said Suzanne Udell, a program assistant for the seniors. "Over time, these two groups have really come to love one another, and you can see that the minute they lay eyes on one another."
"Children have to learn to give of themselves and be prepared to care and share," said Katz. "School is more than textbooks – it is the development of heart, mind and soul."
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