As students at Shore Country Day School in Beverly, Mass., were getting ready to start a new school year this past August, so was Jean Hancock.
Jean, a resident of Brooksby Village, an Erickson Senior Living community in Peabody, Mass., volunteers at the school as part of an initiative called the Brooksby Buddies.
"I was an educator for 37 years. When I saw an ad for Brooksby Buddies, I joined right away," says Jean. "I missed the kids and the energy!"
Once a week, Jean and a dozen of her neighbors carpool to Shore Country Day School, where they participate in educational, creative, and fun activities with first-grade classes.
"I needed this! It's so good to be back with kids," adds Jean.
Jean joined Brooksby Buddies soon after settling into her apartment home in the spring of 2022.
"I was able to meet with the two first-grade teachers who partner with us," recalls Jean. "They are so young and energetic."
Those two teachers, Emily Glore and Kelsey Mercier, approached Brooksby Village in 2022 seeking volunteers for the program. By introducing Brooksby's residents to the school's first graders, they hoped to foster valuable intergenerational relationships.
Glore, inspired by her personal connection to Brooksby Village, had the idea for the program. Her great-aunt Jeanette was a former teacher who lived at the community for about 15 years.
"I always thought about how wonderful my great-aunt was, working with kids," Glore recalls. "I started this program because I knew that the residents and students would benefit from these relationships-- even for issues like classroom anxiety. There's so much goodness baked into the program!"
The first year of Brooksby Buddies, seven residents participated. This year, that number has more than doubled.
The many benefits
Like Jean, Katherine Holian--a Brooksby resident since 2021--joined Brooksby Buddies as soon as the program was up and running.
And, like Glore, she had a personal connection to the community.
"The first thing that attracted my attention, actually, was that my granddaughter went to Shore Country Day School. She's now graduated from high school, but I had been to the school, and I really liked their philosophy and how they taught kids," Katherine recalls.
She adds, "I love being around little kids, and I thought it would be something really different than my other Brooksby activities. Plus, I wanted to meet more residents since I was new to the community."
Each Wednesday, Katherine and Jean meet with fellow volunteers at Brooksby before carpooling to Shore Country Day School, which is just 15 minutes away.
Their hour-long visit begins with reading a book or story, followed by a related activity. But for the students, building relationships with their "buddies" is the most important part.
"Students benefit by forming a relationship with someone who is significantly older than them, someone who has generational knowledge they don't have yet," says Mercier. "There's also the magic and beauty of the kids realizing that although these grown-ups are much older, they have a lot of similarities. Those social skills are critical for kids to learn."
'It's so joyful'
Jean notes that she benefits just as much, if not more, from the relationships that are fostered through the program.
"It has certainly given me energy! I just love it," says Jean. "I look forward to our time together, to being with the kids and Emily and Kelsey. It's also been a lot of fun getting to know other residents here at Brooksby Village who I didn't know before. Now, we are all connected."
For many residents, those connections have grown beyond their classroom visits.
"I meet with one of the Brooksby Buddies' volunteers for dinner pretty often," Jean says. "I wouldn't have known her otherwise."
For Katherine, volunteering with Brooksby Buddies means being a part of something greater--with such a positive impact.
"It's rewarding, simply spending time with those little kids," Katherine says. "Their curiosity, love, and excitement for what they're doing is unmatched. Just watching them interact with each other is amazing. We all say, 'It's so joyful!'"
To learn more about affordable, independent senior living at Brooksby Village, request your free brochure to get the scoop on amenities, floor plans, and so much more.