JCC seeking elders to match with preschoolers
By Deb Silverthorn
When Helene Glazer is asked about her little buddy, Juliet Bywaters, her response brings love to life. “My best little friend?” Glazer said. “I love her.”
The duo, one of 12 in last year’s Ideal 18 pilot program at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center’s Goldberg Early Childhood Center, are a prime example of the program’s success, as it prepares for year two.
Expanding to three classes, this month’s recruitment is open for 40 “Elders” to participate. The only requirements to be a “grandfriend” or “Elder,” named for the respect and honor the word relays, is to be age 60 or older, have a love of children and a desire to connect in a relational way.
“The program is absolutely ‘Ideal’: Intentional Deep Experiences Across Lifecycles,” said Director of the Goldberg Early Childhood Center (GECC) Tara Ohayon. “Ideal 18 gave us a framework and raised the bar for our community — our little ones and our elders. They see each other in the halls, or sometimes at a store, and everyone’s heart beats a little extra. It’s pure joy — joy, education and caring.”
The GECC plans two events each month, some connected to curriculum, others involving sheer play. While not required, the pairs sometimes unite outside the classroom as well.
“We became best friends. That we’re 80 years and a week apart never challenges that,” Glazer said. “They matched a ‘feisty little one’ with a ‘feisty Elder,’ and they got it right. I went to her birthday party and she came swimming at my house. Wherever we are, it’s a ball.”
The partners are introduced by a photo of the elder to the child, and an interview video that is recorded, questions provided by the children. When Glazer walked in the room the first day, Juliet made a beeline to her pal.
“She looked just like her picture, and I sat on her lap,” said Juliet, her own happy-voice sounding at the memory. “I sat next to her, and I hugged her, and then I sat on her lap. I like doing everything together.”
Glazer has two grandsons and Juliet, local grandparents, but, for them, it’s a different relationship. There’s no discipline and no distraction. Just time.
For teachers Maribeth Nakwaasah and Cheryl Sefton, it’s the lit-up eyes that touch them. “The loving relationships growing between the child and elder are like nothing I’ve ever seen between two generations,” said Nakwaasah, who received an intergenerational programming grant, which provides for the program. “If only given the forum, they have so much to offer one another.”
“Children create the disposition they’ll have of seniors when they’re young. We can change society by helping with intentional programming and relationship building. Youngsters can grow with respect for, and not fear of, elders,” said Diana Ganger, Ideal 18’s director. “There’s inherent power in developing empathy.”
Ganger first created a program which coupled teens and elders in Israel. Back living in Chicago, she and co-founder Linda White made Ideal 18 a reality.
“Dallas’ GECC exceeded expectation and the professional team is exceptional,” Ganger said. “Together our programs are providing powerful opportunities.” She cited studies of those 60 and older, who, with regular interaction with children, report balanced blood pressure and better physical, emotional and cognitive health. “It’s a win-win for everyone,” she added.
Helping to support the more than tripling of the students participating this year is a grant from the Lev Kertsburg Intergenerational Program Fund. The fund was established in honor of Kertsburg, who passed away last year.
“Lev was my partner, best friend and husband for 45 years, and his name must live on,” Irene Kertsburg said. The couple’s grandchildren, Gabriel and Maxim, were the light of Lev’s life and the JCC, his second home.
“My husband spent all his time with the kids. He took them to the J, for school and to play. It was his happiest time, and Jewish education was his priority,” she said. “He’d be proud of this legacy.”
For Katharine Rubenstein, director of the J’s Senior Adult Department, Ideal 18 is a perfect match.
“The smiles that happen, come straight from the hearts,” she said. “We are the Community Center and this is community in action.”
For more details, or to register as an elder for the 2019-2020 year, please call 214-239-7157 or email email@example.com. For information on Ideal 18, visit ideal18.org.