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Dallin 2nd graders, senior volunteers extend bridge to future

Digital devices disconnect our youngest and eldest -- and varying strains of U.S. society have long done so, years before the iPhone or internet.

While Asian and other cultures have traditions keeping children and grandparents closer, America has tended to keep them apart.

Bridges Together, a program involving Dallin students and seniors, works in small ways to help improve those connections.

In May, 25 Dallin second-graders led by librarian Rebecca Aaronson came together with eight volunteer senior citizens at the Senior Center for a "reunion" a farewell gathering and a tour.

At other times during 2017-18, the students have taken seniors on a tour of Dallin.

Lisa LeBlanc, a Dallin parent who brought the program two years ago to Arlington from Sudbury, where it began in 1991. She has called it an "intergenerational boot camp," but you can give that phrase its gentlest meaning in this case.

Consider volunteer Ted Peluso, an 85-year-old Arlington resident, who calls the time he spends with his group is the highlight of his week. A retired accountant from New York who moved to Arlington to be near his grandchildren, Peluso participates in Bridges Together because the connection he makes with young children.

“I can have a terrible weekend, and I know that I get to come to Dallin and see my kids. It’s the bright spot in my life.”

Watch the faces; see the future

The proof of that? Watch the faces as young and old gathered around tables in the Senior Center's ground-floor meeting room May 29, shown in the photos with this story: delight ... surprise ... perhaps rapture.

Marci Shapiro-Ide, a social worker at the Council of Aging, which aided the program's connection, calls Bridges "mutually beneficial for all ages." She sees it as a "wave of the future" for senior centers, having what she said is a "real impact on adults and kids."

On the tour of the Senior Center that day, the second-graders were told: "This is the old high school. You might have to whisper."

They passed a room full of elderly in tights or shorts splayed on the floor and saw retirees enjoying a game of pool.

In the lobby, Shapiro-Ide gestured to the racks of bread -- among the rescued fare brought in by Food Link  and available to those who need it. She explains about Meals on Wheels  and referred to loneliness.

The second-graders listened some, and then you could see eyes wander, as details housing venture into social areas likely foreign to all but a few.

A larger perspective

Let's pull back and look at the bigger picture: The effort is growing. Since Bridges Together was incorporated in 2012, 16 communities have put into effect one or more of its programs, engaging nearly 2,000 children, 600 seniors and 75 community leaders. Hundreds more community leaders are attending workshops and/or being trained to launch new their own programs.

LeBlanc, the Dallin parent who enthusiastically guides matters here, documented local growth. Asked how many students and adults have been involved this year, she wrote, "The first year we had seven volunteers, and we ran three fifth-grade classes, rotating them. This year we have 21 volunteers. We ran three fifth-grade classes in the fall. This spring, we have three second-grade classes."

The eight-week program meets once a week for 40 minutes during the students' library time.

What happened when young and old bridge together at Dallin? Using the past spring term as an example, LeBlanc said each week involved a different book. With that book, there was a 15-minute discussion around the theme of the book and a craft related to that.

"We read Miss Rumphius [by Barbara Cooney] this week [earlier in May], and the kids planted lupine seeds with the volunteers," she said.

Those activities joined two ends of a spectrum -- the youngest is 7 years old; the oldest are octogenarians.

Samantha Karustis, the Dallin vice principal, gave a big thank you to LeBlanc, for bringing this program to the school, and to Aaronson, "for being her right-hand person and working hard to make it such a positive experience for all involved."

As Eleanor Roosevelt, the former first lady, once wrote:

“Today is the oldest you've ever been, and the youngest you'll ever be again.”

Bridges Together website >> 

This news feature with photos by Bob Sprague was published Sunday, June 24, 2018

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