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Retirement Communities Say 'Bring In the Kids!'

Intergenerational programs benefit all age groups

En español | Two years ago, Rachael Grossman and Gertrude O'Neal met at the Cleveland Art Museum when they were in the same tour group. Since then, they've drawn close, logging time together on other outings, and at home.

But this isn't a typical friendship formed by two art-loving fiftysomethings. O'Neal is 97 years old. Grossman is 10.

Intergenerational housing

Intergenerational programs benefit all age groups. — Tim Hale Photography/Corbis

See Also: 5 Ways to Get More Out of Friendship

"I love pushing her around," says Grossman, referring not to a lame bullying tactic, but to O'Neal's wheelchair. "I like how she smiles and is so friendly and kind. It's fun interacting with older people. They teach me and I teach them."

O'Neal, who lives in a nursing home at Judson, a continuing care retirement community in Cleveland, is equally smitten with her decades-younger buddy. "I really look forward to being with her. Rachael is a sweet and intelligent girl. She gives me a better outlook on things," says O'Neal.

Combining the generations

At Judson, intergenerational programming is not just alive and well, but thriving. The goal is to build ongoing relationships between the two groups, rather than have a single in-and-out encounter. Each month, more than 500 students visit the facility to take part in joint school-curriculum-based art, music and environmental projects, and Judson residents tutor math and reading in the city's elementary and middle schools.

The interaction doesn't stop there. Residents and students also attend cultural events together. The professional company Opera Cleveland has produced six operas for Judson, including Carmen and The Barber of Seville, sung by residents along with a local elementary school choir.

Then, there's a movie-making option. Last summer, Patience Hoskins, 82, an independent-living resident, enrolled in a three-week, on-site filmmaking camp at Judson.

New to the art, Hoskins learned about more than just filmmaking; She was in a group with 13-year-old boys. These kids "think differently than we do," she says. "They are curious and restless and computer savvy. I learned how their minds tick and what they talk about." Their documentary, which portrays the different generations comparing notes on pop culture, premiered at the children's school, followed by an encore performance at Judson.

But the relationships didn't end with the screening. "We don't have children here, and our grandchildren are all grown up. We're old folks!" says Hoskins. "They were interested in us as people," she says of the students. "We became good friends."

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