Two generations, no gaps

'Z' Frank Apachi’s Grandfriends program

Grandfriends  image

Every Wednesday, Gregg Salomone participates in the Grandfriends program at the JCC Chicago Early Childhood at 'Z' Frank Apachi. He looks forward to spending the morning in a preschool classroom, where his official title is "Grandpa Gregg."

Salomone was one of the first Grandfriends to join when the program debuted in 2022. An avid gardener who loves getting his hands dirty, he used to manage hotels. 

"I love learning with the children, and seeing how inquisitive and observant they are," Salomone said with a smile. "This is great for me."

Julie Mednick-Simmons, Grandfriends program coordinator, said, "The Grandfriends become members of the classroom. This consistency creates deep, meaningful relationships between the children and the Grandfriends. We Jews say ' L'dor v'dor: from one generation to the next,' but, here, it's generations all together."

The program was inspired by an intergenerational-learning fellowship that Mednick-Simmons participated in with IDEAL18. After the fellowship, each fellow launched intergenerational--learning at their own schools. Already in its second year, Apachi's program has grown to seven Grandfriends.

"Research shows that everyone engaged in intergenerational programming benefits. Older adults report an overall improved quality of life, while children demonstrate improved empathy. And people of all ages are looking for purpose," Mednick--Simmons explained. "Beyond the classroom, intergenerational models can heal the age-segregation of our fractured community."

Grandma Robin Bright taught at Apachi for more than a decade. Although she spends the winter months in Arizona, she reads to her class over Zoom. She also created a curriculum on modern art, and her three-year-old students enjoyed learning about Chagall, Seurat, and Kandinsky.

The most senior Grandfriend is Maxine, "Grandma Macki," Levy, a spry 85. Recruited by Bright, she admits that she prefers this to her exercise class. "I look forward to it," she said. "It keeps me in my positive attitude."

The children play, color, read stories, say blessing, and, in their words, "make stuff" with the Grandfriends. One classroom has a photo album titled What We Built . Inside are photos of structures of stacked blocks and children with their Grandfriends, who have built something far more lasting.

Among the lessons is the Jewish value of hachnasat orchim , welcoming guests, explained Leanne Nathan, 'Z' Frank Apachi's director of early childhood for 23 years. Another is, "expanding our community while demystifying aging, and normalizing the act of aging gracefully," she added. "I'm really gratified to see how meaningful these Grandfriend relationships are."

"My son, Ryder, loves Grandma Macki and says, 'She is my friend,'" reported parent Nikki Goldman. "His grandparents aren't local, so she came to his birthday party. He wears a tie when she comes to class to look nice for her. Now, she's my friend, too-we've gone out for cocktails!"

To learn more about the Grandfriends program, contact Julie Mednick-Simmons at Grandfriends are generally in the 68-85 age range, and commit to weekly visits of two-and-half hours.


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