Building Connections Across Generations

As author and literary critic Gilbert K. Chesterton once wrote, “Education is simply the soul of society as it passes from one generation to another.” This is not a transfer that can happen solely through literary works, films, or encyclopedias; it must take place in person, with individuals who are willing to bridge generational divides in search of deeper understanding.

Led by their teacher, Martha Selsor, fifth-grade students from Mission San Jose Elementary School visited the Masonic Homes on March 27, 2018. Their purpose was to interview residents to learn more about their personal histories, interests, and lives; the stories that emerged would be used to create a keepsake book to remind them of the friendships they built and knowledge they gained. “Everyone loves a story,” says Selsor. “Children and older adults both enjoy telling them and listening to them. It’s an ancient custom.”

This partnership started seven years ago, when Selsor met Masonic Homes residents Carole and Ray Boyes at a local musical. They introduced her to Carlene Voss, volunteer program manager at the Masonic Homes. Voss and Selsor were eager to connect the students with residents. From this desire, the interview idea emerged.

“I felt it was important for the children to hear these seniors’ stories, just as it is important for seniors to have an opportunity to share their stories,” says Selsor. “I hoped that my students would have an opportunity to understand how friendly and approachable seniors can be, and that it’s valuable to make connections, despite differences in age and experience.”

This year, students’ questions ranged from the past to the present. They interviewed residents about their childhood memories and careers; hobbies and sports interests. Masonic Homes resident Jeanne Fershleiser led the event and encouraged residents to participate. Fershleiser, who has volunteered with the event since the beginning, finds the experience to be very rewarding. “Some residents live very far away from grandchildren, or may not have any at all,” she says. “Getting the children and residents together in such an informal setting makes the concepts of grandparents and grandchildren a reality for them.”

The reaction from children was equally positive. “One student, Isabella, found the senior she partnered with very sweet and considerate. She thought it was cool to get to meet someone else’s grandpa,” Selsor says. “Another student, Vaibhav, was hard at work writing his story for the book, knowing the senior was counting on him and his classmates to make it memorable.”

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