These days, intermediate students at Blair elementary are skipping school to jam with their “grandpals” at Rosewood Manor, an intermediate care facility for seniors on Blundell Road.
Not to worry, of course, as these visits are authorised by vice-principal and music teacher Andrei Sala.
The intergenerational “grandpals” program was crafted by Sala and Rosewood’s recreation and volunteer manager Megan Van Wallegham, with the help of other staff from Rosewood and Blair.
“Right away they took it as an opportunity to get to know other people. They saw it as a way to serve the community and they went with it,” said Sala of his Grades 4 and 5 students, who, on April 24, played guitar and sang in front of about three dozen inspired seniors, who are in varied stages of the last years of life.
“Our residents, their families do visit frequently but it’s a nice way for the residents to the kids,” said Van Walleghem.
“The kids are fun, non-threatening; they have a fun social time and it’s a nice diversion for the residents away from day to day things. And it’s a nice way for the younger generation to connect a little bit with someone who’s older than them,” she said.
It’s clear the seniors enjoy the monthly visits and there are many mental health benefits, noted Van Walleghem.
“Some key things with residents who are in care facilities is that they do experience loneliness, helplessness and isolation. And bringing the kids and community in brings a bright light to their day.
“You can see the smile on their faces. They just really get a nice connection. They think how great it is that someone took time out of their day to visit them,” she said.
Meanwhile, Blair students are developing empathy, said Sala.
“I was stunned, even on the first visit how brave they were to go up to any resident and hold out their hand and start talking to them,” he said.
Sala said he was inspired to run the intergenerational program from his upbringing.
“My grandparents were from the Netherlands; we didn’t grow up knowing them very well but we wrote letters. My parents came up with the idea to sing for the seniors and when I became a teacher I just wanted to bring my classes here,” he said.
Music is a good way to connect, he said, especially with the growth in Asian seniors at Rosewood whose first language is not English.
“That’s where music has been perfect because it doesn’t matter if they know the words; they’re humming along and moving along with the music. That breaks that barrier,” said Sala.
The program presents itself behind an interesting demographic shift occurring in Richmond, as its population is both growing and ageing, as a result of immigration.
In Richmond, where kids once outnumbered seniors, the opposite is now true.
In 2006 there were 27,055 kids age 14 and under. Today (2016 Census) there are 27,240, despite population growth of about 24,000 people. Kids under 14 represented 15.5 per cent of the population in 2006. In 2016 that percentage lowered to 13.7 per cent. Meanwhile, those age 65 and over have gone from 22,250 to 33,650.