Betsy DesNoyer, a teacher at St. Gabriel, created a program that enriches the lives of both her students and the elderly. Five times throughout the year, her students make the journey to Plantation Estates, a retirement community in Matthews, and brighten not only the days of those living there, but also their own.
The first half of the day was spent in the auditorium, where everyone came together for a little singing and dancing. Students lined up next to each other, one by one, as the elderly filed in and sat in front of them, watching and waiting for what came next. Smiles broke out across the crowd as the students launched into the history of classic songs that the elderly knew by heart, such as “You Are My Sunshine,” “Take Me out to the Ball Game,” “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah,” Frank Sinatra’s “High Hopes,” and Dick Van Dyke’s “Put On a Happy Face.” As all 102 students went through their well-practiced motions, following their peers in front of them, their audience bobbed their heads along with the beat.
As involved with the elderly as they were, the students couldn’t empathize with them regarding what it was like to be elderly—an aspect that DesNoyer wanted to drive home. Several activities were created, including spreading Vaseline over plastic glasses to illustrate vision loss, putting tape on students’ hands to show them what it’s like to have arthritis, and wheelchair basketball to show them how restricting wheelchairs can be.
When it came time to thank the grandbuddies for their time, the children did it in the most extraordinary way. Each student came to Plantation Estates armed with a list of questions to get to know those living there.
“What a fun experience it was, as each small group of 3-4 students sat at the foot of our residents as they shared their life stories and hard-earned wisdom,” Becky Dinello, Plantation Estate’s Activity Director, shared.
“My three interviewers were alert, intelligent young men,” Tom Peacock, 93, who became known as Terrific Tom, said. “They charmed me. It was fun.”
“At the end of May, the students returned with their masterpieces—28 of them!—in hand and presented them to our residents,” Dinello continued. “The books are simply beautiful! Once again, they did not disappoint.”
From the conversations had over the course of their visits, the children compiled story after story and put them together in a hardcover book, titled with the grandbuddy’s name and a positive adjective. They truly went above and beyond the expectations as they did so, going so far as to include illustrations of their grandbuddy’s old memories and childhood nostalgia.
Tom recalls telling stories about golf, basketball, and his time as an aviator in the service. “They handled this very well in the book.”
Although they won’t fully understand why the ‘Silent Generation’ got teary-eyed at the sight of their gift until they are older, the children created something that will be treasured forever by their grandbuddy and his or her family.
The best part of Tom’s experience was “being with the young people and, finally, feeling like they truly liked me,” he says. “I’d like the children to walk away feeling that very old people can be friendly, engaging, and that they would like to come back again.”
When DesNoyer came up with the idea six years ago, she created the Mrs. DesNoyer Fund in order to keep the program running. As the program grew, however, it became too expensive to pay out of her own pocket, so she applied for a grant from the Grants for Educational Excellence. The GrandBuddies Program is now funded by the Principal Grant, which is made up of gifts given by parents like you to the Educational Excellence Annual Campaign. Your gifts cover bus transportation, book and activity materials, and, most notably, an experience that will be forever cherished by all involved. Thank you.