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Volunteers Bridge the Generation Gap

By Lauren Hollon
Buckner International

Studies show that intergenerational programs have real benefits for youth and elders.

For young people, spending time with older adults can improve their social skills, boost their school performance, introduce an element of stability into their lives and cut down on drug use.

For elders, interaction with young people is a social outlet, an opportunity for lifelong learning, and an emotional and physical boon.

“Buckner has always understood the need for children and older adults to spend time together and learn from each other,” said Scott Collins, vice president of communications for Buckner International. “When R.C. Buckner founded the Orphans Home in Dallas in 1879, he provided cottages for widows to live in surrounding the home. Today, volunteers of all ages work together to serve children and senior adults through Buckner.”

A Gentle Teacher

Every Monday afternoon, Carol Hodges gets into her car and makes the short trip from her home in Duncanville to the Wynnewood community center in Oak Cliff.

The soft-spoken retiree is a mother of five and a grandmother of 12. She enjoys working with children, and has taught fifth grade Sunday School classes for years.

While looking for ways to mentor at-risk children, she came across a story about Buckner serving in the Wynnewood community. She felt compelled to get involved, and began tutoring third, fourth and fifth graders during the after-school program last fall.

“When I first started, they didn’t react at all to my being there,” she said. “But after a while they could remember my name. I’m getting there, building relationships.”

“I knew it would take time. Last week, one little boy came up and hugged me. His name is David—he’s always got a smile on his face. One girl hugged me three times yesterday when I left. So I can see a lot of difference.”

Her kind eyes and gentle voice puts the students at ease as she guides them through tricky math problems.

“I think she’s great,” said Spencer Watkins, lead life skills specialist at Wynnewood. “She’s dedicated. The kids expect to see her there every week, and it really shows how much she cares about them. The students she’s assigned to love seeing her; they’re always ready to leave my class and go see her because she’s so sweet.”

Watkins said it’s important for the children at Wynnewood to have dedicated adults in their lives.

“This is an at-risk community, so most of the kids come from single-parent homes with three or four other siblings,” he said. “To have another motherly figure or grandmotherly figure that cares about them and has time to give them individual attention can really affect change in their lives.”

Watkins said that retired adults are a great volunteer resource, as they have both the time and the patience to work with children.

“Most of our consistent long-term volunteers are in their late 40s to 50s and up,” he said. “I think when they’re working with kids it’s a benefit for both the child and them. It keeps them active. It keeps the mind studying and thinking, ‘How can I challenge this child, help this child and encourage this child?’ It’s also so gratifying for the volunteer to help a child learn and succeed.”

Something to Learn

Ariana Najera has a heart for senior adults. For two years in high school, she was a regular fixture at a Dallas nursing home as a volunteer.

“I liked that it really brightened the residents’ day a lot, and it felt good seeing them happy and enjoying talking to me and my friend,” she said.

She started to miss volunteering in college and wondered where she might get involved. She noticed the Buckner Retirement Village down the street from her home and called in January to ask how she could serve.

Every second and fourth Saturday the 19 year old takes her sister Arelia, 13, and their 4-year-old cousin Argelia to the retirement home to lead afternoon games of Bingo.

“They are so caring,” said Alicia Russell, executive director of Buckner Retirement Village. “And they are self-starters. This is their program and they’re proud of it.”

They do all the setup, help elders get settled and they take turns calling out the Bingo numbers. Whoever isn’t calling numbers helps residents who don’t see or hear well.

Russell said that volunteering with senior adults is a great learning experience for young people.

“It teaches them a lot of things about life—that all of us, if we’re fortunate, will get older. They learn to respect elders and get a chance to learn from them, because they’re a veritable history book,” Russell said.

Volunteering with elders has made Najera more sensitive and aware in her relationship with her own grandparents, she said.

“I think I understand my grandparents better and relate to them more,” she said. “Since I started working at the retirement home, I started noticing how hard it is to bend down or do simple things. Before, I didn’t notice that kind of thing, so now with my grandma I make an effort to help her with everything.”

The residents appreciate the girls’ time and effort, and Russell said the fellowship they share enriches both of their lives.

“Our elders just love it; they really look forward to them coming each week, and they love being around young people.”

To learn more about volunteer opportunities with Buckner and the ways you can serve children and senior adults, please e-mail volunteers@buckner.org.

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