A few years ago I was visiting my friend, Jennifer, who has a precocious child with an inquiring mind who was 4 years old at the time. I was talking to Jennifer about nothing in particular and her son was watching my face with rapt attention. I was thinking that either my hair looked particularly great that day or that I was saying something really interesting because his eyes never left my face. Finally he said “Can I ask you a question?” While I was prepared to tell him about the new shampoo I started using that gave my hair that extra shine I was not prepared for him to say in a sweet, little voice, “Why is your face all “cwacked” up?”
I started laughing and Jennifer was embarrassed that her son would say such a thing but he just kept staring at me waiting for an answer to what seemed to him like a great question. I told him that I was older than he and his mother were so my face was getting lines in it. He proceeded to tell me his grandma was old too but she didn’t have such a “cwacked” face as he abandoned his half eaten sandwich and ran off to play. Its questions like Porter’s that make me realize how great it is to have older people in a child’s life. Older people have wisdom, knowledge and experience that they’d love to share with little ones who are curious, nonjudgmental and able to absorb information and experiences like a sponge. Many children don’t have grandparents or older people in their lives and for many older people they are lonely because their grandchildren live so far away.
So now the question: “What do I do?” The answer is that I make it possible for generations to learn and grow together at Willson House. Since 1985 children at Willson Child Development Center have been building relationships with the seniors from Willson House and Jason Lee Manor as they engage in special daily activities such as singing songs, telling stories, making crafts or participating in annual events like a Tea Party or summer Carnival.
When you see the soft, little hand of a 2 year old tucked into the big, weathered hand of a 100 year old farmer as they walk hand-in-hand down the hall after singing songs together you will understand what we do at Willson House and why I love it so much. We need to nurture the relationships between the young and the young at heart and keep our Intergenerational program strong because it improves the quality of life for both groups. Most importantly it gives children a place to ask about “cwacked” faces to older people who know they earned every one of those “cwacks” and who are happy to share their life experiences.
— Mary Reitan, Community Outreach Director
Willson House and Jason Lee Manor
1625 Center Street NE Salem