Adopted grandparents share mutual kinship with little visitors
Sitting on the edge of Helen Butell's flowered bed spread, Karlee Beach talks in endless streams of sentences, pausing only for breath and to let Dylyn Besser get a few words in.
The third grade girls are telling Butell, their adopted grandparent, about the pilgrims who celebrated the first Thanksgiving. Sitting in a recliner, Butell leans over to hear her adopted grandchildren talk about school projects and Halloween costumes, but sometimes they talk about their families, too, Butell said.
In place since 1978, the Adopt a Grandparent program places third-grade students with residents at Eudora Nursing Center. The classes take turns visiting twice a month. When the classes walked over from Nottingham Elementary School last Friday they brought turkeys made out of lunch sacks and colorful paper to be used as centerpieces.
"I think the elderly respond well to children when we can't get them to respond to anything else," said the center's social worker Mary Coppedge. "It's a very intergenerational program."
To hear success stories from the program, ask Nottingham teachers Ruth Hughs and Vicky Hofer. The two started the program more than 20 years ago after hearing about the program going on in another district.
After their students dispersed into rooms all over the center, Hughs and Hofer recalled touching stories about program participants, including one resident who would only interact with the adopted grandchild and students who maintained relationships with their "grandparents" long after third grade. One student sent her adopted grandparent an invitation to her high school graduation. Other participants have kept letters and other memorabilia from their pairings years later. The program inspired another participant to find a career in health care.
When Karlee and Dylyn visited Butell, they also had in tow a sheet of paper with topics to discuss. They thought talking with the adopted grandparent was about the best part of the program. Since Butell's grandchildren are grown, having visits from 8- and 9 -year-olds is something that doesn't happen every day.
Butell guessed she'd had a set of adopted grandchildren each year she lived at the center, and after a school year of visits she gets to know them pretty well.
The kids partner up with a resident in pairs to relieve uneasiness about meeting new people, making the situation less threatening, said Eudora Nursing Center activities director Shannon Renner. Some of the first activities, Renner said, involved teaching students how to properly push grandparents in wheelchairs and how to get a staff person's attention if the grandparent needed help.
After a voice on the intercom beckons the third grade girls back to join their classes, Karlee and Dylyn hug Butell goodbye.
"We feel fortunate to have something in place," said social worker Coppedge of the program that brings children into the nursing center. "They kind of fill it up with cheerfulness."