By Gary Axelbank and Melanie Correa
Friday, December 1, 2017
Inspired by a portrait shoot of senior citizens at the Throgs Neck Senior Center, Bronx Collaborative Photographer Eileen McNamee, who doubles as a teacher at the Riverdale Community Center, got the idea to bring teens from that Center to meet with senior citizens at the Riverdale Senior Citizens Center. The result was a series of meetings between the old and young that was both adorable to witness and uplifting for both the youngsters and the old-timers.
“It just sort of grew, shall we say, into being a thing where the kids come over and they can meet people they normally wouldn’t sit down and talk with,” Ms. McNamee said as the two groups gathered for Wednesday’s get-together.
This was the third such intergenerational encounter, but these four youngsters and three seniors were meeting for the first time because the program encourages different students to volunteer for every visit.
The table was set, seniors on one side and children on the other. Everyone seemed comfortable enough and neither the decades of age difference nor the long cafeteria table between them provided any sort of barrier. They jumped right in.
“Have you had any things that you know now that you wish you knew as a kid?” eleven year-old Jeremiah Clarke, asked.
Madeline Chiclacos, 64, responded by dissing some of childhood’s greatest pleasures.
“I don’t want to upset you kids, but candy is bad for you,” she said to the disappointed youngsters. “Sugar is bad for you and I wish I knew that as a kid because when I was a kid, a lot of people gave me candy.”
Sixth-grader Angelina Mejia wanted to know what kinds of activities were fun for kids many years ago. She learned that some simple – neither digital nor electronic – activities were the order of the day back then.
“We used to play King and Queen, which was like handball against the wall of the apartment building and we used to play hopscotch and jump rope, double-dutch,” Susan Seidner Chasky (age 21+) recalled. “We didn’t have a television when I was your age and that was a good thing. We did not have smart phones, either, which was a better thing.”
The value of this intergenerational pow-wow was plainly obvious.
“I think it’s good that they see like a world outside of their own,” said Marita Keane, the Riverdale Community Center teacher who escorted the teens to visit the seniors. “They talk about their parents a lot. They talk about their siblings, but you don’t really hear kids too often talk about their grandparents.”
Of course the older folks benefitted too.
“I think interacting with young people, I think it’s really helpful,” said Barbara Denson, Intergenerational Coordinator for the Riverdale Senior Citizen Center. “Because it’s a different generation, you’re thinking differently, acting differently. I think it’s good for the brain for all of us.”
Periodically during the session, Walter Pofeldt, also from the Bronx Photographers Collaborative, captured portraits of the kids.
“When we did it at the Throgs Neck senior center, when the people saw the pictures they just wanted to take them,” he said. “It’s fun because I’m a senior citizen now and I like kids- smart kids – who are interested in dealing with seniors, it’s nice to see.”
Before they said goodbye, the kids acknowledged they really appreciated the advice the seniors gave them.
“You can be anything you want to be if you work hard and never give up,” said Robert Ackerson, 71.
“The trick in life is always enjoy what you do, that way you never work a day in your life,” Ms. Seidner Chasky advised, “and if you don’t love what you do, do something else. Find out what you really love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”