Closing the generation gap

Plymouth students play a big part in success of Generations
by Jamie Piontkowski
Plymouth School District Communications Coordinator

Riverview Middle School students and adults play cards during the Game On program at Generations — Submitted photo Riverview Middle School students and adults play cards during the Game On program at Generations — Submitted photo PHS student to be part of delegation to accept Best Intergenerational Community award for Plymouth in D.C.

Plymouth High School student Drew Schweiger will be among a contingent from Plymouth going to Washington, D.C., to be honored by MetLife Foundation/ Generations United as one of four national America’s Best Intergenerational Communities.

The award is designed to heighten awareness of the importance that intergenerational solidarity plays in building strong, supportive communities. A recognition ceremony will be held Feb. 11 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

Drew, a regular volunteer at the Generations Intergenerational Center, will be accompanied by Joann Van Horn Wieland, Generations executive director, and others.

Deep intergenerational tradition

Plymouth traces its intergenerational roots to 1985, when the children from Here We Grow Child Care Center (now Growing Generations) began having regular programs with the Plymouth Senior Center, South Horizons Apartments and Valley Manor Nursing Home.

The effort received a tangible boost with the Generations Intergenerational Center, built in 2011 thanks to a $4.2 million public/private campaign. The facility houses the Family Resource Center, two Head Start classrooms, Growing Generations Child Care, a 4K classroom, the Adult Community Center, New Life Community Church (on Sundays) and a Safe Harbor office.

“We’re creating an atmosphere in this building where a lot of people feel safe and welcome,” Wieland said, adding that attendance averages more than 200 people a day.

But Plymouth is being honored for more than just a building, she added. Generations United was very impressed by the intergenerational spirit throughout the community.

Donna Counselman, a retired educator and Riverview Student Council advisor, saw first-hand how an intergenerational activity transformed an older adult who once held negative stereotypes of teens.

“Sometimes the news makes me think that all teenagers are bad people,” the woman told Counselman. After watching 13-year-olds in the Head Start Pals group read to 3-year-olds, she said: “I certainly can see this is not the case in our community!”

Game On

Longtime Plymouth resident Doreen Salkowski remembers teaching three teens how to play canasta, a card game from Uruguay. “Boy, they struggled, but they felt accomplished when they were finished!” she said. “They still tell me how they enjoyed learning to play.”

Salkowski and the teens met through the Game On program, which brings students and adults together each month for a wide variety of games. It was one of many examples of intergenerational activities in Plymouth noted by Generations United.

Game On welcomes all ages. All of the participating students are from Riverview Middle School, but any student in fifth through eighth grade can participate. The adults are a mix of parents of middle-school students, adults of all ages from our community, retired teachers, and senior citizens.

They gather to play pool, ping pong, foosball, chess, sheepshead, board games and pickle ball, as well as Wii golf, baseball and bowling. When the weather is nice, they enjoy outdoor activities such as bocce ball, pickle ball, kickball and horseshoes. Sometimes they make cards and other crafts.

Snacks and water are provided. Transportation from the middle school is provided due to a generous anonymous donation made to the Riverview Student Council.

The program meets once a month on rotating afternoons from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Generations Intergenerational Center, 1500 Douglas Drive. Remaining dates for this school year: Thursday, Feb. 26; Monday, March 9; Tuesday, April 14; and Thursday, May 7.

“We hope everybody sees that we can all have fun with one another, regardless of age,” said Wieland. “We can all learn something from one another!”

Many other examples

In addition to Game On, ongoing intergenerational programs offered in Plymouth include:

Little Learners, a weekly playgroup for children ages 2½-4 facilitated by a Plymouth School District early childhood teacher. The playgroup meets from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Wednesdays at Generations.

Head Start Pals, where students from Riverview Middle School and adult volunteers are teamed with Head Start students for monthly activities.

Intergenerational Exercise, which brings together 4K students and seniors once a month for games and movement activities. The next session begins at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 26.

AFS Presentations, where foreign-exchange students at Plymouth High School share information about their home countries with the public. Upcoming presentations are set for 4 p.m. Sundays, Feb. 22 and April 19 at Generations.

Plymouth School District Community Education and Recreation classes, some of which are held at Generations.

Past collaborations have included:

• The Plymouth High School one-act cast performed at Generations before competing at the Wisconsin High School Theatre Festival.

• Plymouth High School drama students interviewed senior citizens, then created an original play based on their stories called “Yesterday’s Friday Nights.”

• Students in the food science class at Plymouth High School interviewed their grandparents about how our food supply has changed over the decades.

• Students in the Extra Mile Child Care program operated by Community Education and Recreation enjoyed mini-golfing with members of the Senior Center.

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