'Bridges Together' makes memories for Lee students, seniors

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LEE — Despite a half-dozen decades or so between them, it turns out fourth graders from Lee Elementary School and volunteers from the Lee Council on Aging do have a few things in common.

"We both play golf," said volunteer Alba Burns of her fourth-grade counterpart, Kelly Molino.

The two met each other through a new partnership formed between the school and council under the umbrella of the Sudbury-based organization, Bridges Together Inc. The nonprofit is devoted to training others to run intergenerational programs and help them be successful through the guidelines of a unique curriculum. A grant underwritten by Bridges Together made the six-week Lee partnership possible.

On Monday morning, the nearly 40 participating fourth graders, their eight Building Bridges volunteers, and other school and community members gathered at the Council on Aging to celebrate the conclusion of the inaugural program. The program had been meeting for an hour at the school on Monday mornings, as coordinated by fourth-grade teachers Ruth LeCompte, who spearheaded the partnership, and her colleagues Leslie Hickey and Trysta DeSantis. Pat DiGrigoli help coordinate the volunteers from the Lee Council on Aging.

Over the course of the program, seniors got to know a small group of fourth graders as prompted by a series of questions and "homework" from the Bridges Together curriculum. Groups were asked to compare and contrast what it was like to go to school when the volunteers were growing up in pre-computer eras versus what students experience now, and seniors had to do things like share a skill with their new young friends.

To show their appreciation to their volunteer Ruth Heath, students Emily Miller, Alyssa Hoctor and Carter Marks embroidered "thank you" onto a dish towel, using the skill Heath taught them.

"How nice," said Heath to the girls. "This is very thoughtful."

In turn, Heath surprised the students with embroidering hoop kits to continue their practice. She reminded them that almost anything could be embroidered and that "you can even use a design from your favorite coloring book."

Heath said she and her fellow volunteers found it "very interesting" to have conversations with the children and talk about the changes in lifestyle over the years. Her students were shocked to find out that there was a time when "computers" and "television" weren't in the volunteers' vocabulary, and that entertainment was strictly offline.

"We had chores and then afterwards, we'd run out in the fields and climb trees to have fun," Heath explained to the girls.

Each group of students also presented their Bridges Together volunteers with a booklet they made of photos from their meetings along with poems and thank you letters.

Marks wrote: "Dear Mrs. Heath, You gave me a hobby that I'm never going to stop. You gave me a smile, so huge it's bigger than an elephant. I'm so happy you came, but, so sad you're leaving. We will all miss you Mrs. Heath. Thank you."

LeCompte also screened through a projector a slideshow of still photos and videos from the groups' times together.

"I think it was good for the kids to learn how to speak with someone and be clear and articulate," LeCompte said. Over the course of their sessions, she observed how the students "were so kind and so polite in sharing a great connection with the seniors."

"Some of the children don't have exposure to a grandparent figure, and I also think this teaches them to respect the older generations. Old people aren't just "old people." They're people who have stories to share," LeCompte said.

Asked what they remembered from talking with volunteer Buzz Hanley, the students disclosed that he had attended boarding school at Cranwell, before it became a resort; that he served in the military and studied dentistry, and "that he's really nice," according to fourth-grader Amaya Thomas.

Thomas added, "It's good to meet [the volunteers] so kids can hear about history that happened."

Both LeCompte and the Council on Aging's Pat DiGrigoli said they hope to expand the program to other grades next year, and DiGrigoli said she also hopes to get other community members involved in reaching out to older residents, particularly those who are homebound, or who can't afford things like senior bus trips or eating out on a regular basis.

Hanley said he thought it's a worthy program for people his age to get involved in because, "kids are always the same. They're good to know, they're fun and energetic people."

Volunteer Alba Burns added, "These children are the future and they can learn from our experience, and our mistakes, and how we grew up. A lot of people have a lot to offer to help this generation."


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