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Intergenerational Program Brings Together Young And Old In Surprise

Intergenerational (IG) programs are springing up across the country, according to Generations United, a leading IG advocacy group. These programs bring younger and older generations together. And the idea is to improve a person’s quality of life.

Among kids, IG programs can help with social skills and decrease the risk of drug or alcohol use in the future. For older adults, mixing with a younger crowd can improve a person’s health, reduce falls and even improve memory. In Arizona, there are a handful of these programs, including one unique program in Surprise.

There’s a lot happening on this Thursday morning at Lucy Anne’s Place, an adult day program for people with early to moderate stages of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

The children, who are making hand prints with a group of grandpas — that’s what staff call them — walked over here from Wirtzie’s Preschool, which is right next door.

Wirtzie’s and Lucy Anne’s are both part of an organization called Benevilla which is based in Surprise. They offer several different day programs to meet different needs. In this case, the need is pretty obvious.

“I don’t know if I get more fun out of it or if they get more fun of it," said Rich Satmary. Satmary has been coming to Lucy Anne’s for nearly six months and he participates in the IG program every day. He, along with several other grandparents, including Pat Phelps, spends around 30 minutes with the children.

“Guess how old I am," said Phelps. “You’ll never guess 89."

"No way," said a group of boys sitting with Phelps.

"I’m almost 90, that huge isn’t it?" she said.

The grandparents and kids laugh, they talk — and they learn.

Diane York is the lead teacher of the pre-K class that’s visiting today.

“About every skill you can image is touched at least once a week in these classes," York explained.

Which, said York, includes social emotional development and fine and gross motor skills. But there’s something else they’re learning, something that can’t be taught with a book.

“We’re raising a generation not going to be afraid of their grandparent as their grandparents age," said York. "They don’t know anything is different than any other grandparent.”

What she means is that all of the grandparents have dementia, but these kids don’t know that.

“They know these grandpas and grandmas are interested in what doing, they like ability to explain and help them just like they would their own grandparents,” said York. "I have never been asked that in five years, if there was anything going on.” 

Five-year-old Isabel Barnes is playing with a puzzle when she asks to see my microphone.

“My name Isabel and I’m reporting live.”

She said she likes spending time with the grandmas and grandpas because she thinks they're funny. "They're beautiful," she said.

For Isabel and her friends Kendall and Scarlett, this is a typical Thursday morning. For their teacher, York, the IG model should be the norm and not the exception.

“Children need to see that," said York. "They need to see that it's OK to age, it’s OK to be sick, it’s just. It’s OK. They’re still valued."

With roughly 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 every day over the next decade or so, according to the Pew Research Center, York might be right.

Kathy Ritchie has 20 years of experience reporting and writing stories for national and local media outlets — nearly a decade of it has been spent in public media.