Vickroy: Kindergartners befriend seniors on field trip
BY DONNA VICKROY email@example.com Twitter: @dvickroy April 1, 2014 4:30PM
Updated: May 3, 2014 6:34AM
Who knew Nathan Pawlak and Ethel Orszulak— separated by a good 84 years in age — both would choose milk as their favorite beverage?
Or that blue would be the most favored color among young and old alike?
Our small world was made even more familiar Tuesday morning when kindergartners from St. Cajetan School went on a field trip to Smith Village retirement community just a few blocks away in Chicago’s Beverly/Morgan Park community.
The 6-year-olds spent about an hour chatting with the elders, asking questions about pets and cousins and favorite snacks, then they all took a break to sip punch and exchange chuckles, smiles and lasting memories with their new friends.
“This fella is fantastic,” said 85-year-old Lois Murray about her new buddy, Connor Elenteny. “He told me all about his mom’s age and his dad’s age and his little brother.”
Connor, who wants to be both a scientist and an artist one day, couldn’t help but notice the paintings on the walls of the meeting room. “Do you know who painted that one?” he asked Lois. She did not but speculated all of the artwork was created by the same person.
Brendan Skerrett, 6, learned that Mary Joan Shuch, 88, likes both lemonade and water. He also told Lois all about his love for weightlifting, flexing his muscles for emphasis.
Shuck said, of Brendan: “Oh, he’s a fine boy. He talks very well. He’s a smart little guy.”
Teacher Lisa O’Leary said the outing was considered a service learning project.
“We were looking for a way to give back, to give alms, during Lent,” O’Leary said. “Instead of giving money I thought why not give love, caring and time?”
Knowing that some seniors either don’t have grandchildren or live a great distance from them, “I thought why not spend some time with our senior friends at Smith Village.”
She approached Kevin McGee, CEO of Smith Village and father of Finn McGee, a St. Cajetan kindergartner, about organizing a field trip.
“This is a relatable way to get kids to interact with our residents,” McGee said. “We’re hoping to do more of this and to establish a pen pal program.”
O’Leary said prior to their visit the students drew pictures — of their families, their homes and, from aspiring artist Connor Elenteny, an Easter egg hunt — and devised lists of questions they could ask the seniors.
Shelly Genis, volunteer coordinator for Smith Village, moderated the event.
She presented conversation starters on everything from favorite school subjects to the kinds of hijinks leprechauns get away with on St. Patrick’s Day.
“I wanted it to be interactive and fun, with a healthy twist,” she said, referring to the smoothie snack break.
Annie Sullivan and Eileen McAlpine didn’t need much prompting. Annie had lots to say about her favorite color, her favorite snack — “Pop-Tarts, my mom just bought my favorite kind” — and about how much sleep a kindergartner needs.
“Sixty hours?” the 6-year-old guessed.
“Oh, I think that might be a little high,” Eileen said.
After much conversation, Bob Bach, 81, presented little Mary Morris with a stuffed bear.
“Can I be your grandpa?” he said.
Mary nodded and, hugging the bear, said, “OK.”
There were other gifts exchanged, as well.
Nathan Pawlak brought yellow flowers for Ethel Orszulak.
“Oh, I like these, they make me think that summer’s coming,” Ethel said.
“I knew she’d like them because she’s a girl,” Nathan said.
With youthful abandon and age-old wisdom, the two groups hit if off right out of the gate, proving that all it takes to bridge a generation gap is a little time, a little prompting and some big hearts.
Smith Village is at 2320 W. 113th Place, Chicago; (773) 474-7300; smithvillage.org.