Jewish Pavilion Intergenerational program brings Camp J students to seniors
August 3, 2018
The seating areas in the light-filled lobby and commons of Brookdale Lake Orienta were abuzz with youthful energy on a recent Wednesday when a group of more than 40 middle schoolers from the Camp J's Tayarim (Travelers) program came for an afternoon of games and socializing with the residents.
Groups of the young teens and seniors played checkers, worked puzzles, colored intricate designs in adult coloring books, solved word searches, or just settled in for a nice chat in an annual visit coordinated between The Jewish Pavilion's intergenerational program and the Roth Jewish Community Center of Greater Orlando's summer camp.
With so many middle schoolers, there were also opportunities for them to share some cell phone expertise with interested seniors. An impromptu dance party and a little karaoke lent the program some musical energy, courtesy of the sound system brought in by Jewish Pavilion Intergenerational Program Director Walter Goldstein.
The modern beats helped to break the ice and made for a festive atmosphere. For many of the kids, the senior living facility was an unfamiliar setting, and the initial mood was much more subdued as the group sat and waited for more of the seniors to arrive.
That's typical of kids in this age group, said JCC Youth and Camp Director Kacie Zemel. When they are in a new situation, "they have to quickly think, 'Am I too cool for this or is this something I can really get into?'" she said. "The minute that the ice is broken they come out of their shells."
Giving the campers an opportunity to come out of their shells is one of the reasons Camp J sends its middle school group to do different community service projects each week. "We want them to have an opportunity to come out of their comfort zone and do something for somebody else or do something for their community," said Zemel.
The seniors who attended the intergenerational program were very receptive to the campers and were clearly very pleased to connect with them individually. Goldstein, who oversees similar programs throughout the school year with Hebrew school and youth group children at other senior living facilities, said that the programs are popular with the seniors he serves.
"Besides the fact that it's just a change from the norm, the middle schoolers' energy, their excitement over things, is actually a little contagious," Goldstein said. "So it helps to reenergize the seniors-it gives them a little excitement during the day."
Mary Vindett, resident programs director for Brookdale Lake Orienta, knows that the seniors she serves appreciate the opportunity to see new faces and have someone new to talk to. Having overseen a few of these programs in the past, Vindett said, "I think there is an equal balance. I think the kids get something out of it and the residents get something out of it."
For the kids, said Zemel, "they enjoy going to an assisted living facility because it reminds them to respect elders, it reminds them that there is a whole world outside of just their family and that there's opportunities for them to give back and share their knowledge."
While the other Camp J Tayarim community service projects are important and relevant, there's a special bonus for the middle schoolers in the intergenerational program, said Zemel. She said the kids always return to camp energized and feeling good about the experience.
"When you're sitting with the seniors and you see them smile, or my kids make a joke and the senior is laughing, there's instant gratification that they're doing something with their time," she said. "And that makes the difference."