LeadingAge Magazine · November-December 2019 • Volume 09 • Number 06

An Intergenerational Partnership Brings Older Adults and Kids Together—and Saves a Valuable Nonprofit

November 15, 2019 | by Suzanne Dumaresq

Faced with the loss of its long-time home, a day care center devoted to helping at-risk children turned to a LeadingAge member for a new home.

Jeannette Sienkiewicz is 78 years old and has been a resident at St. Mary Health Care Center in Worcester, MA (part of the multi-state Covenant Health system), for nearly a year.

When asked, “In your opinion, what is an intergenerational program?” she responded, “It’s a beautiful connection between the seniors of St. Mary and the kids of Webster Square Day Care Center.”

Jeannette Sienkiewicz, St. Mary Health Care Center
resident, reads the book ‘You Are important’ to a
new friend from Webster Day Care Center.

Sienkiewicz taught for 30 years at St. Mary School in Shrewsbury, MA. She also taught summer school at Saint John’s High School, in the same town, and worked for 5 years with her daughter, Juliana, who ran an in-home day care center. She knows her way around a classroom, which is why she was so happy to welcome the kids of Webster Square Day Care into her home and occasionally become a part of their days.

The Participants

Webster Square has been a fixture in the Main South neighborhood of Worcester for 50 years, providing day care to low-income families with at-risk children aged 3-5.

What brought these 2 seemingly dissimilar organizations together? A unique opportunity to help one another, and more importantly, to connect older adults and kids for intergenerational programming that an ever-increasing amount of research has shown greatly benefits both demographics. In fact, according to the 2019 report from Generations United and The Eisner Foundation, A Closer Look at Creating Spaces that Connect Young and Old, there are 110 intergenerational shared space centers in the United States, and the phenomenon is growing.

Sienkiewicz says, “Having the kids in the building is wonderful. They’re excited to be here. Their new space is so bright and beautiful. Our community is right next to a park with a playground and we’re all connecting, building friendships, and […] enjoying one another’s company.”

The Background

With Jeannette Sienkiewicz, St. Mary Health Care Center
resident (seated), are the 3 forces that drove this project:
Susan Downey, St. Mary Health Care Center president, Sister
Marie Thèrése Martin, a member of both the St. Mary and
Webster Square boards of directors, and Eileen Lavallee,
Webster Square Day Care Center administrator.

What launched this progressive partnership? Webster Square needed a new home. The building they resided in was purchased and the new landlord was unable to maintain an appropriate environment for children. Enter St. Mary President Susan Downey, Sr. Marie Thèrése Martin, a member of both the St. Mary and Webster Square boards, and Eileen Lavallee, Webster Square administrator. Sienkiewicz says, “A kind-hearted trio came together, came up with this solution, and saved the day. Really, everyone is lucky—the residents and the kids.”

Along with the support of many generous sponsors, including United Way, St. Mary agreed to convert 3,200 square feet of its space to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for Webster Square’s kids.

Sienkiewicz smiles and says, “I’m so happy about the kids joining us here. I’m excited to spend more time with them, celebrate holidays, listen to music, make crafts, garden together, and tell stories. I think we can all learn a lot from each other and have some fun!”

The Advantages of Intergenerational Programming

The advantages of bringing together older adults and kids have been well-documented:

  • Intergenerational programs have been found to decrease social isolation and increase older adults’ sense of belonging, self-esteem, and well-being, while also improving kids’ social skills.
  • Older adults in intergenerational care reported lower levels of loneliness, reduced agitation, and even improved health. Young children often have more patience, advanced motor and cognitive skills, higher developmental scores, and more advanced emotional competencies than their non-intergenerational peers.
  • Older adults benefit from being exposed to a sense of purpose and enhanced dignity. Kids enjoy learning from and connecting with an older generation.
  • Older adults can be ideal companions for young kids. Not only do they pass on their wisdom, they also often offer a level of patience that encourages kids to engage.
  • Desegregating our society and encouraging different generations to learn from and socialize with one another sends a positive message of inclusion.

Firsthand Perspective

“The kids brighten up my day! As a former teacher, no one knows better than me that children are the future. They have an innocence that is refreshing and sharing time with them gives me, and other residents, a lovely sense of purpose,” Sienkiewicz shares. “The kids are enriching my life, and the lives of my friends, and I like to think we’re enriching theirs too.”

Suzanne Dumaresq is a communications manager at Covenant Health.