Crystal Waters Retirement Community in Strongsville, Ohio, already had intergenerational programs in place, but the community’s director, Stephanie Chambers, wanted a different kind of intergenerational program: “One that makes our residents feel that they matter and that they are important,” she says.

After conducting some research on the Ohio Department of Education academic standards for second grade social studies, Chambers had an idea. She contacted the school district’s Talent and Development Coordinator Libby Davis and invited her to tour the community. Davis accepted the invitation.

After lunch, Davis said, “I have a teacher and a second grade class for you.” The teacher was Mary Whitcar, who taught a class of gifted and talented students at Drake Elementary School located about 15 minutes away.

Whitecar and Chambers developed a curriculum that fit Chambers’ idea and met Ohio’s education standards. The result was four, four-hour weekly sessions at Crystal Waters.

Students would ask residents biographical questions such as: “What was your childhood like?” and “Did you have a pet?” Then the students would write the residents’ answers in a booklet and write out their own responses to the same questions.

Through discussions between resident and second grader, the students learned about history.

Now, the “The Story of Our Lives: A Biographical Journey” program was set to begin.

Finally, the day arrived for the children to come to Crystal Waters, and when Chambers saw the school bus full of children, she thought, “My dream is coming true.”

Chambers, staff, and residents were prepared to introduce the children to the residents through a series of get-to-know you games. But the children didn’t need the games; they warmed up to the residents instantly.
Each child was paired with a resident who had similar interests. For example, a girl who was taking piano lessons was paired up with a resident who had been a well-known piano teacher in the area.

The students began collecting biographical information from the residents, and while the answers were generationally different, the students and seniors discovered some commonalities, such as a love for pets or enjoyment in playing games.

The bonds between the second graders and the residents grew stronger as time progressed. They greeted each other with hugs and kisses and often said “I love you,” says Chambers.

The friendships continued after the program finished. Some children continue to visit the residents. The girl who played piano arrived at Crystal Waters on Easter Sunday with an Easter lily to visit the piano-teacher resident. Chambers explains that the resident did not have children of her own, but when the child showed up with the Easter plant for her, there wasn’t a dry eye among the witnesses, says Chambers. After receiving the lily, the piano teacher told Chambers, “This makes me feel young again.”