Windsor Run Residents Share Their Life Stories with St. Gabriel's Students

By Kelly Shue
February 15, 2024
Residents of Windsor Run in Matthews, North Carolina connect with local students on an annual story-telling project.

Grand Buddies, an innovative program at Windsor Run, the Erickson Senior Living community in Matthews, N.C., perfectly illustrates the knowledge, wonder, and connections we gain through intergenerational storytelling.

The program pairs fourth grade students at St. Gabriel's Catholic School in nearby Charlotte, N.C., with Windsor Run residents, who proudly share their life stories and experiences. Students then create beautiful hardcover books--complete with illustrations--depicting the stories they've heard.

Since introducing the program in 2018, more than 600 students have visited the community to participate.  

Sharing stories

For residents Benton and Patty Kesler, the decision to take part in Grand Buddies last year was easy--their grandson was a fourth grader at St. Gabriel's.

"The timing was perfect," says Benton. "We were so excited to meet our buddies. We are firm believers that older and younger people should get together and share their experiences."

To kick off the program, students visit Windsor Run in small groups. During their first visit, each student meets their grand buddy and begins asking questions about their past. Over the course of several weeks, students meet with their grand buddies multiple times and focus on different periods in their lives.  

"Our buddies enjoyed hearing all of our stories," says Patty. "It was fun explaining to them things they had never heard of like 'Howdy Doody.' They were ready with their questions, pen and paper in hand. They were such a friendly and well-behaved group too."

Reminiscing on years past

Residents John and Joan Cook decided to participate in Grand Buddies after hearing about the wonderful experience from their Windsor Run neighbors.

"We'd never heard of a project like this and were very interested," says John.

Residents Courtney Layne and Virginia "Ginny" Bernstorf, both former elementary school teachers, joined the program eager to reunite with students.

"I loved teaching and working with children, so this was a perfect fit for me," says Courtney, who appreciated the trip down memory lane. "It was fun to reminisce. They wanted to know about the schools I attended and my favorite activities. When I mentioned watching Walt Disney on Sunday evenings, they couldn't understand that we only had three channels!"

"I think that Grand Buddies is an amazing program," adds Ginny. "I welcome opportunities to interact with children because they propel me into action on behalf of younger generations."

She continues, "Each student asked about my adult life, and I shared photos to help illustrate special events and loved ones. My buddies were interested to learn that I attended Appalachian State University, was married at St. Gabriel's Catholic Church, and that I was a teacher. They also wanted to know about my life at Windsor Run--and loved meeting my 'roommate' Molly, my cocker spaniel."

In the months that follow their final visit, the students work diligently to write and illustrate a hardcover book based on what they learned about their buddies.  

Gifts made with love

At the end of each year-long program, the students proudly present their creations to their buddies, reading the stories out loud and showing off their artwork. The books are always accepted with love and gratitude.

"We eagerly waited for our book, and we were not disappointed," says Patty. "It was quite interesting to see how they interpreted what we told them. We will always cherish our book."

John agrees, saying, "The book was so unique. We are storing it with our other important family documents. We shared it with our six-year-old granddaughter, who read and loved it. Even my adult daughter-in-law read it and was fascinated. It brought tears to her eyes."

Courtney adds, "The book the students created is an absolute treasure and the artwork is precious."

"I was overwhelmed by their gift, their warm friendships, and their kind, courteous manners," says Ginny. "This book is something I will always cherish."

Lasting impressions

This month, a new group of St. Gabriel's fourth graders will arrive at Windsor Run, ready to meet their grand buddies.

"I think it's wonderful that the students learn some things about life in a previous generation," says John. "I think it's also beneficial that they had the opportunity to interact with seniors who are not members of their family. I told all my Windsor Run friends not to miss the chance to participate in this project!"

To learn more about senior living at Windsor Run, request your free brochure to get the scoop on amenities, floor plans, and so much more.