A Door to Happiness
At Chestnut Park at Cleveland Circle in Boston, a door in the west wing opens to a special place: the Jewish Community Center Early Learning Center. Though this door pass residents who volunteer at the preschool and children who enjoy visiting their neighbors.
Five Chestnut Park residents serve as classroom grandparents, helping with art, reading, snacks and recess. “On the days they volunteer, our residents smile all day,” says Programming Director Laura Moran. “They feel a sense of purpose, that people need them. When they enter the preschool, the kids wave, shout their names and invite them to sit on their reserved chairs.” Family members are grateful to see a marked improvement in their loved one’s demeanor.
Children have a way of opening the heart. After a withdrawn resident volunteered at the preschool, she became a regular in nearly all the community’s activities. And while some of the children are shy at first, they soon develop warm relationships with the residents.
Norma, a classroom grandparent, takes great joy in reading to the children. “I love experiencing their world and their imaginations,” says Norma. “Their joy creates my joy.” At the end of a recent reading session, the children asked if Norma could go to art class with them. The teacher asked, “Norma is in a wheelchair. How can we get Norma to the art room?” After the children discussed it, one child said, “We can carry her,” and another said, “We can take the elevator.”
Every Friday, the children come to the community to mark the beginning of Shabbat, the rest day in Judaism. The children and residents say a blessing, eat challah bread, drink “wine” (grape juice) and sing favorites, like “Challah in the Oven!” and “Bim Bom.”
Once a month, the preschoolers come to the community to play games with the residents, including balloon tennis and various parachute games.
To start a relationship with a preschool, Laura recommends inviting a preschool class for an Easter egg hunt, trick-or-treating or a luau.
Even More Special Relationships
On the opposite end of the education system, Chestnut Park also has a relationship with Showa Boston, an organization bridging America and Japan through language and culture. Each semester, Showa students from Boston-area universities visit Chestnut Park to teach residents about Japanese culture, Kanji (the written language) and origami. To practice their English skills, Showa students play word games with residents.