Bridging the generation gap is often a delicate affair, but when it comes to the Grade 8 and 9 students of the leadership class at W.D. Cuts Junior High School, it’s as easy as turning a ribbon into a bow.
On Wednesday afternoon, the group of 32 teenagers along with teacher JoAnn Blachford were hard but cheerfully at work, putting the finishing touches on more than three-dozen special presents. For the seventh year, these Secret Santa gifts are to be given out next week to St. Albert seniors who find themselves housebound or without many family members around during the holiday season.
A team of 10 volunteers from the St. Albert Senior Citizens’ Club also joined in. It’s not unusual for the two groups to work together. They often collaborate on various intergenerational activities like Christmas tree decorating at the centre, sitting down for a board game or sharing knowledge about using computers.
The seniors’ club makes a strong point about the need for old and young alike to bond together. On its website, it outlines that both seniors and youth have common basic human needs like being intellectually stimulated, developing self esteem, developing links between the past and future and cultivating meaning within their lives and their relationships.
It reads, “Youth volunteer programs, leadership programs, Grand-friends programs, Christmas programs and everyday interaction between seniors and youth in our community only reaffirms that resources are more wisely used when they connect the generations rather than separate them.”
It all starts with teenagers who just want to give back to the community in which they live. The leadership class goes out to various charity and social organizations including the seniors’ club, even during class time, to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.
Grade 9 student Marina Dixon reassured said it wasn’t just about taking an easy elective class to coast through the term.
“I really like leadership and volunteering,” she said. She loves her work at Youville Home and the library and also enjoyed her recent stint with the Snowflake Festival. “There’s always something that you can do to help.”
Blachford said the students really do enjoy themselves and get fulfilment from contributing to society whether it’s at the food bank, day cares, the Mustard Seed Church or anywhere else. In fact, they’re so busy participating they haven’t even been able to do some of the fundamental schoolwork like making presentations.
“Each group has to present but they’ve been so busy that we haven’t even gotten through all the groups yet. In a way, that’s a good thing.”
While they focus their hands-on efforts around town, they fundraise and distribute the money across the country and internationally as well, removing all restrictions on their altruistic imaginations.
Still, they feel the closest with those people they work with locally, especially at the seniors’ club. She hears some of their grumblings about lack of access to good computers and this makes her realize where the need is in the community. She wants the students to pay attention to that as well. “We’re thinking but we’re always trying to get the kids thinking.”
When it comes to finding support for the city’s seniors, there’s never a shortage of helping hands, especially at Cuts.
Tara Rodrique, the outreach program co-ordinator at the seniors’ club, knows just where she can go for assistance.
“We always involve the W.D. Cuts kids. This year we’re having them more involved,” she said, adding how she feels about their involvement and commitment of effort and time. “Everything they’re doing is amazing.”
The outreach programs at the club include Meals on Wheels and Seniors in Need, which is where this Christmas gift project comes into play. She understands what most of the rest of the community doesn’t and knows how seniors feel to get the surprise packages.
“It makes their Christmas. They show appreciation that you can’t even imagine. It just gives them something to make their Christmas a little merrier that someone is thinking about them. Christmas is difficult for seniors because it is cold, because their mobility has decreased, because maybe they have lost family members. Christmas is just one of those times when … it’s tougher for people.”
Of course, this concern doesn’t just happen at this time of year. It’s her job to be observant and vigilant.
“Seniors are always in need. A lot of seniors and probably a lot that aren’t even on our list that we know about are probably alone and in their homes and don’t hardly get out. It would be nice if we could get to all those seniors.”
The seniors’ club offers counselling services, legal sessions and other assistance 365 days a year. It’s a critical function, especially when a greater and greater percentage of our population is considered to be senior.
Executive director Leslie MacEachern calls Rodrique’s work invaluable.
“What she does through the outreach program is all about seniors in need, whether it be helping someone to find a form to apply for a subsidy or take a look at a social isolation risk.”
Whatever the case, there is no shortage of tangible ways that the club and the kids at Cuts are working together to make things better. It’s no problem for them to put together a simple care package of a knitted afghan, a tree ornament, a homemade holiday card and some freshly baked cookies. It’s all in a day’s work.
Ish Thaleshvar was on hand to help out too. He’s the vice president of the club and was an active volunteer and community member in Cold Lake for about four decades before he moved to this city a few years ago.
He said he sees how much St. Albert cares for its citizens, especially its seniors. He loves his affiliation with the club because it always gives him something worthwhile to do.
“Originally I thought I would just join the seniors’ centre to play bridge,” he laughed. “The camaraderie was so great. Rather than just watching TV all the time, this I think is far better.”
Blachford sees that companionship carry over into situations like the gift-wrapping.
“To me, when these guys get to work with us, it’s a win-win because the kids love it. They’re all fighting over who gets to go to the seniors’ centre. It’s a feel-good situation.”