What started off as a service project for gifted students has evolved into so much more. “Originally, it began as a way to share what was happening in the younger generation and show how technology is now helping today’s students learn with seniors. But it actually grew from this original idea. Friendships were built!” says Darla Williams, a teacher at Rose Park Elementary School in Billings, Montana.
Twenty students from a combined 5th- and 6th-grade class at Rose Park visit the residents of Billings Health and Rehabilitation for their Buddy Program every other week. The results and benefits of the program for both the students and seniors have exceeded all expectations.
“If you were to ask the students and the residents who the designated mentor was, you would get different answers from both of them,” says Ben Tyrell, Regional Director of Sales & Marketing. “This program is a lot more impactful than we ever imagined.”
Mutual Benefits of Intergenerational Programs
Intergenerational mentoring works to break down the generational barriers between today’s youth and seniors. Through spending time and participating in activities together, some of the benefits for students and seniors can be a higher sense of purpose self-esteem. It is truly a mutually beneficial learning experience.
“One of the students in the class had a very challenging time socially. He was not doing very well connecting with the other children,” says Ben. “He really connected with his buddy. This experience became his social outlet and a real source for a positive relationship.” The resident this student was paired with was also very independent and was still transitioning to her new home at the community. “The program gave her a strong sense of purpose and showed her that she could still be a positive influence,” says Ben. The student continues to go back and visit even now after participating in the program because of the special bond formed with his buddy.
The students and residents work on activities together during each visit. Examples include a craft project, playing games on an iPad, or even having the students interview the residents and creating biographies with the information they gather. These projects allow the conversations to flow naturally through their teamwork.
Building Stronger Bonds
“When the students got off the bus, the energy in the building definitely changed – in a good way,” says Ben. “Some of our residents don’t have their families nearby, and the Buddy Program wasn’t just a one-off visit. The students and the residents really got to know each other.”
While the residents had differing levels of communication abilities, nothing hindered the bond formed between residents and students. “I had one little girl in my class who went to an emotional level with her buddy,” says Darla. “The buddy she was paired with was blind. This student went home and created a textile board full of different textures that the resident could feel during the next visit. Even when she was at home, she was still thinking about what she could do to help her buddy.”
Another resident could not communicate verbally, but was able to interact with his buddy easily through the use of an iPad. The student even taught the resident how to better utilize the technology.
Nothing Can Keep Close Friends Apart
“One time, the students were ready to come for their program but the bus didn’t show up,” said Ben. They were ready to cancel the program for the day, but to everyone’s surprise, 25-minutes later the students appeared at the community’s front door. “They had walked the two miles from the school to come to the program because they didn’t want to miss spending time with their buddies.”