Wednesday was a busy day at the Michael A. Traficante Senior Enrichment Center in Cranston.
Thanks to the generosity of Letitia and the late John Carter’s Spark grant, a combined group of 40 third graders in Lisa Davis’s class at Glen Hills Elementary School and in Regina Bilfuco’s class at Edgewood Highland Elementary School traveled to the senior center and paid a visit to the seniors who were spending time there on Valentine’s Day. The visit was part of a yearlong program that the two classes have embarked upon thanks to the grant.
Earlier in the year, Davis and Bilfuco set up a pen pal exchange program, writing letters back and forth to each other, each class learning more about the other, and finally meeting up at Glen Hills on Tuesday, Feb. 6 for a planning meeting prior to the Valentine’s Day senior center trip.
It was Davis’s hope that the yearlong project would provide some connectivity in the community and try to right some of the wrong that exists in today’s world.
“It seemed to me that people are more and more centered on their own righteousness and in general the public is more and more divided on every count,” she said. “It makes me sad, and my thought was that if we can help children who are still young enough to understand that our differences can and should be our greatest strength, maybe the message they’ll get and bring out into the world is one of more empathy, care, acceptance, respect, tolerance and of understanding each other’s views and perspectives.”
Having taught with Bilfuco in years past, Davis thought the partnership would be ideal and the grant would be crucial in helping pull the whole thing together.
She thought the visit to the senior center would help to promote the idea that seniors deserve respect and care and that the two age groups are more alike than different. The two classes put together 100 “We Care” packages for the seniors that included a handwritten message, a handmade Valentine and token gifts such as water bottles with personalized holders, chapsticks and lotions with specialized labels on them to commemorate the day.
Also inside the bags were activities for the students to do when matched up with their senior for the morning. The activities included Valentine’s Day themed stories to read together and a questionnaire for both to fill out together about their likes, dislikes, interests and experiences.
The students also practiced a song about kindness together, which they performed as a whole group for the senior audience. During their visit the students also had the opportunity to tour the facility and were surprised when they were each gifted with handmade dolls created on site by the senior citizens. The dolls could be passed on to someone special or kept as a memento from the day.
“We also asked that a panel of seniors be ready to answer the students’ pre-written questions regarding the community, past and present, their proudest contributions to the community, things they might miss today or things that have changed for the better,” Davis said.
The students were excited for this visit, looking forward to connecting with the seniors.
“I am excited to partner up with a senior and to ask them my questions,” said Harrison DeTomasis, a Glen Hills third-grader.
The seniors were equally excited by the visit.
“These kids are wonderful,” said Marilyn McCabe. “They make me feel young again.”
Helen Okolowitcz noted that she and her student partner had a lot in common and liked a lot of the same things.
“I really enjoyed doing this with the kids,” Okolowitcz said. “I’m going to be 92 in March and doing things like bring me back to my childhood.”
Mayor Allan Fung stopped by to chat with the students and the seniors and was thrilled with all of the connections being made between the generations.
“I love seeing the smiles on the students’ faces and I love to see them interacting with the seniors today,” he said. “There is such an instant enjoyment when they connect one on one that they just can’t get through a letter, and it’s even more special to be doing it on such a special occasion as Valentine’s Day.”
Mayor Fung addressed the entire group, thanking the seniors for their participation and thanking the teachers of both schools for being a part of the process as well.
“This brings two generations together that might not have otherwise met,” he said.
Jeffrey Barone, Executive Director at the senior center is in his first year of his position, and was very pleased with how the event turned out.
“I like the fact that two different generations are coming together, and I don’t know of any other place that can happen,” Barone said. “These young kids can hear the perspective of the seniors and the seniors can talk to the younger kids and hear theirs.”
As the Glen Hills and Edgewood Highland students continue their partnership throughout the rest of the school year, a visit is planned for the Glen Hills students to visit Edgewood Highland and a combined field trip to the botanical center at the University of Rhode Island will culminate the yearlong project.