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Published Thursday, February 4, 2016

From Generation to Generation through Songs, Crayons and Games

By Amy Forman

Kaplan Estates resident Marty Lawson has visited the 5-year-old class at the NSJCC preschool twice a week for three years.

Twice each week, 95-year-old Marty Lawson enthusiastically makes his way from Kaplan Estates, where he lives, to visit the five year olds in preschool at the North Suburban Jewish Community Center (NSJCC), which is located on the same Peabody campus, ready to participate in whatever activity the kids are doing – coloring, playing games or joining in a lively discussions.

The preschoolers respond with equal enthusiasm to Lawson and the other residents from Kaplan Estates and the Brudnick Center for Living and to clients from the Shapiro Rudolph Adult Day Health who participate regularly in a variety of intergenerational programming offered on the campus.

“They accept us as one of their own,” said Lawson. “It is always fun with the kids. It is unpredictable. They are all different. Their outlook for the future is always promising.”

Seniors of all ages – from 60-90 – participate with the preschoolers in Shabbat and holiday celebrations, music with Marcy Yellin, art and crafts, and cooking programs on a regular basis, according to JCCNS Executive Director Susan Callum. The campus calendar is filled with CASTLE events (Children and seniors Together Learning and Engaging), with opportunities for interaction scheduled weekly, plus specialists coming monthly. All joint activities are tied in to the preschool’s curriculum.

Holidays provide opportunities for intergenerational programming. Above, an intergenerational pair prepare ingredients for latkes.

The intergenerational programming is a hallmark of the shared Peabody campus, and its success is something that leaders of the assisted living facility and the preschool dreamed of before the NSJCC moved from Pine Street to the Lynnfield Street location three years ago. The NSJCC preschool currently serves 48 children, from infant to pre-K. There are 125 residents at Kaplan Assisted Living, 144 residents and patients at Brudnick Center For Living and 50 clients at Shapiro Rudolph Adult Day Health.

“It has been working beautifully for three years now,” said Sue Novak, NSJCC preschool director. “We work with Ellen Gordon, who is in charge of all the activities for the residents. Residents are welcome to come to anything.”

A preschooler and a senior decorate cupcakes together.

The children think of the residents as their neighbors and friends, said Callum. The seniors love sharing stories and memories with the preschoolers, and sometimes play games like pick up sticks or sing songs that they remember from their youth. Residents celebrating milestone birthdays often receive birthday cards from the kids. Some seniors choose to engage, while others just walk by and watch the children through the windows, since the preschool is located on the first floor in a central location. According to Gordon, the intergenerational programming touches “virtually all our residents in a variety of ways that they choose to be participants.”

“The kids love it,” said Novak, who added that often kids will pair up with a resident during activities.

“It keeps you young when you have these little ones around,” said Callum. “It is a pleasure just watching [the seniors] at Shabbat, with smiles on their faces, with the kids all around them singing and dancing.”

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