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Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Hands Across the Years

By Lyn Burnstine of The Lynamber Times

[For eight-and-a-half years, I coordinated a unique inter-generational program, Hands Across the Years, H.A.Y. for short, at a nursing home with two-to-five-year-old children from a pre-school for children with speech and learning disabilities. I was ably assisted by teachers from the school, nursing home staff, volunteers and my wonderful assistant. During that time, I wrote this piece about the experience.]

At first, the sound is almost subliminal - perhaps created by our eagerness - but no, it is  the first of the tiny voices that herald the approach of the children, tugging and pulling on their teachers’ hands as they round the corner and head for the activity room where the “grandmas and grandpas” await their coming.

If the nursing home residents could, they would meet them half-way, but their feet and bodies are confined to wheelchairs, so their eagerness manifests itself differently. Those who are aware that it is Monday, the day the children come, press the attendants to get them up early so they will be ready.

I wait at the end of the corridor, ready with the name tags made in the shape of our theme for the day. These children need continuity and structure to help overcome their disabilities, so we saturate them with words, pictures, games, songs, books, and even snacks relating to our theme: bears, trucks, turtles, frogs, butterflies, or any one of nearly a hundred others.

Some of the more outgoing children begin to work the room, going from wheelchair to wheelchair with greetings and hugs before we even get their coats off and their name tags on.

Others, a bit shyer, wait to be led to the long tables that are already set up with the crafts projects and snack-making ingredients, and where they will alternate seats with the “grandparents.”

A song by Ruth Pelham, songwriter and folksinger says,

Four hands, workin’ at the table,
two are young and two are old
Four hands, strong and able,
hands that work and hands that love.”

It has become somewhat of a theme-song for this program and onlookers would quickly agree that hands do, indeed, work and love together around these tables.

The more active adults sit at the table, but the room is ringed with wheelchairs holding the less active ones. Even the residents with mask-like faces from Parkinson’s Disease love to be in the room to see and hear the children and although unable to smile, a brightening of the eyes or a stray tear when they are hugged shows that they, too, are moved and blessed by the contact with the little ones. We’ve seen the grouchiest and least responsive of them break out of their age-betrayed bodies and smile tenderly at the children.

Sweet-faced Margaret, able to walk, paint beautiful pictures and help the children make wonderful cookies - anyone’s dream of a perfect grandmother - has an aphasia from strokes that renders her less intelligible than the children. Yet she can and does communicate totally with them. I once saw her and our deaf child having a fine animated conversation.

Uncle Timmy, in residence here not because of advanced age but because of brain damage, is a smiling, fat-faced Kewpie-doll of a young man and a favorite of the children. They make sure he doesn’t get left out when it is snack time.

The preschoolers and the seniors have well-matched limitations of fine motor skills - we do a lot of gluing. After the crafts projects and snack time, we gather the children into the center of a circle of wheelchairs and read stories, play games, sing songs, but most importantly, we hug!

The supreme beauty of placing together these people who are, on average, eighty years apart in age, is unconditional love. The seniors constantly praise us for the well-behaved children, totally overlooking any misbehavior - and there’s precious little of that here - while the children never seem to notice or be upset by physical deformities or lack of control of body processes.

Unconditional love - nobody ever gets too much of that rare commodity, but it is in abundance for an hour-and-a-half each Monday morning, as the babies and the old folks stretch hands across the years.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


What a wonderful program. When my twins were little they went every Wed. to a nursing home with my mother and grandmother where they served cookies and did a song program. My children received as much from the weekly visits as did the residents! Children and older people are a great mix!

Angels can sometimes appear in disguise. This program is teeming with them.

This is a touching story. Thank you for what you contributed to make the world a better place.

Inspiring. I wish we all could remember to behave so well. Thanks for sharing.

What a wonderful program. Often seniors who can not talk, can sing. Music, the universal language, is so benefical for seniors and children alike.

What a wonderful program. Often seniors who can not talk, can sing. Music, the universal language, is so benefical for seniors and children alike.

Music + Generations = Hugs

A belated thank-you to you all for your responses. It was a wonderful job--all that and a salary, too! I also know of a mother, father, and adult daughter (my friend) who give freely of their music and themselves to three nursing homes a week. Brava, Brava and Bravo--they are ........, 80 and 90!

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