PEABODY – Life really does come full circle. Recently, a toddler turned 1 on the same day a senior turned 100. Despite the century separating them, they celebrated their birthday together, in front of a large crowd in the common area of the Harriett and Ralph Kaplan Estates, an assisted living community in Peabody.
Such intergenerational celebrations are not unusual at Kaplan Estates, which hosts both the Shapiro-Rudolph Adult Day Center and the North Suburban Jewish Community Center daycare and preschool. In 2012, Kaplan Estates ‒ then the Aviv Centers for Living ‒ welcomed the preschool on-site, and it was an intergenerational match made in heaven.
The NSJCC preschoolers immediately began relationships with their “grandfriends.” Young and old celebrate all major secular and Jewish holidays together in the common area, and help prepare for them during shared cooking sessions. Some grandfriends also join the preschoolers for music and arts and crafts.
“[The residents] love it, they truly love it,” said Susan Novack, NSJCC’s early childhood director, who noted that residents also are able to observe the children in their classrooms and playing in the outside playground. “They respond beautifully to the sound of children’s voices.”
Everyone at Kaplan Estates is invited to watch outdoor performances by magicians, musicians, animal handlers, and more brought to campus for the kids. Residents also attend preschool graduation ceremonies, and some preschoolers have even invited residents to their birthday parties. Each week, the two generations celebrate Shabbat together, and throughout the year, they bond over Seders, sukkahs, Purim parties, and menorah lightings. During Purim and Simchat Torah, preschoolers parade around the entire facility.
Novack reported that being in regular contact with so many seniors has taught children from a young age to be comfortable around people with disabilities. “It’s a great tool for the kids because they are not surprised at all at seeing a person with a walker, a wheelchair, a cane, even an amputee – they’re not fearful of it all,” she said.
“They really have taken them in as their friends, neighbors – some don’t have grandparents, so they’ve taken them in as their adopted grandparents,” said NSJCC Executive Director Sue Callum, who also noted how much the seniors have enriched the children’s learning. “They love sharing their stories with our students here. They’ll come in and read a story about Hanukkah or Passover and tell their experience about what it was like.
“We had one terrific experience about a year ago – this gentleman came down, and he’s 98 now, I believe, with his iPad, and the kids were giggling, they couldn’t believe he had an iPad. But he was showing things about when he was in the military.”
A 2014 study from the London School of Economics reported that intergenerational friendships had positive effects on seniors’ quality of life, stress levels, cognitive functioning, and social interaction skills.
“They make me feel younger,” said Mary Hanson, a day center participant from Lynn who spends Thursday morning cooking classes with the preschoolers. “I always look forward to coming on Thursdays.”
Janice McLellan, a day center participant from Revere who accompanies Hanson to the Thursday cooking classes, has been working with the preschoolers for the past four years, and has enjoyed seeing them grow into children who can talk, sing, and bake hamantaschen with her. “I love watching the kids – they’re little infants, and then they grow up, and they’re walking and everything,” she said. “There’s one tiny one – he’s really funny. We had a concert going, and he danced the whole time. I love watching that kid.
“And then they graduate,” said Hanson wistfully. “I hate to see them go.”