Pen pal program bridges the generation gap

LEXINGTON – Each week two very different groups of Lexington residents, groups that on the surface would not appear to have much in common, look forward to learning more about each other. They share stories, hobbies and interests and have even exchanged photographs.

But they have never met.

Ashley Bailey, an Elm Creek student studying to be an occupational therapy assistant at Central Community College in Grand Island, is doing her internship at the Grand Generation Center in Lexington. One of Bailey’s objectives is to create a client-centered program.

Using the seniors at the GGC as her focus group, Bailey set out to create activities tailored to the needs of the seniors at the GGC. One of the tasks set before her was to bridge the gap between the generations.

She came up with the idea of a pen-pal program.

“The seniors are exited about this,” said Marcia Holtz, manager of the Grand Generation Center. 

Bailey teamed up with Pershing Elementary teacher Rachel Fast and her fourth grade class and together the came up with a program to bring the seniors and  the students together and fulfill a writing assessment for the fourth grade class.

“We picked Pershing because it was close by,” Bailey explained.

Bailey created 25 folders, each with the photo of a student and the photo of the senior with whom they are paired. In that folder are the letters, questions and thoughts of the children to the seniors and vice versa. Each week Bailey takes the folders to the school and brings them back again, so the two groups could communicate at their mutual convenience, and without having to incur the expense of mailing.

“We had planned on doing a video or something at the end of the project,” Bailey said.

The students had other ideas.

“We do all this work and we’re not going to meet them?” They asked, incredulously.

With Pershing so close, a face-to-face meeting of the two groups is a possibility.

While the program is fun for the students, it’s a lifeline for the seniors, who yearn to be more involved not only within their community at the Grand Generation Center, but the greater Lexington community as well.

“They want to learn about a lot of things,” Holtz said. “They want to be healthy, feel good and try new things.”

Bailey agreed, adding through the pen pal program, age became less important as the two groups started to get to know one another.

“One student asked her 84-year-old pen-pal if her kids were in college,” Bailey said.

“They’re just soaking it up,” said Holtz, of the seniors. “This is to me what senior centers should be.”

Through Bailey’s initiative, the seniors are doing other things, as well. For example, they have recently had classes on nutrition, exercise and even had a lesson on tie-dying.

“They are very open with Bailey,” Holtz said. “We’re looking at doing many different programs.”

After Bailey’s internship is over, her replacement, Winsome Backer, a CCC student from Sutherland, will take over the pen pal program. She will also be charged with developing her own focus group and programs for her seniors.

“We are very fortunate to have them here,” Holtz said of the interns, even as she realizes that after they are gone, it will be up to her and the staff at the Grand Generation Center to keep the momentum going.

Holtz doesn’t seem concerned about continuing the programs, however.

“Even if it doesn’t work [in the long run], at least we’ve tried it,” Holtz said.

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