Intergenerational Index
The Grandfriends Project -- A Program Creating Friendships Across the Generations Martin Kimeldorf, the author

Introduction to Residential Staff

This material offers the staff working in care facilities or community programs an overview of the Grandfriend program. It might be helpful to also share this material with staff you will be working with from the local schools.

The Grandfriend Project is built around a partnership between a school an agency or residential care facility. The fruits of these labors flourish when we take the time to nurture all the contributing roots. On the school side we have teachers, parents, students, and administrators as partners. The other side of the root system includes volunteer coordinators, nurses, social workers, activity coordinators, therapeutic recreation specialists, nursing home administrators and managers.

At first, it appears to be a complex web, but in reality the week-to-week operation of the Grandfriend Project requires minimal care and feeding if the program begins with in-depth dialogue between the partners. Typically, the projects involve a group of students and a their teacher making regular visits to residents. As volunteer coordinator expert Susan Ellis points out, the students and teacher will probably see the receptionist, activity coordinator/director, or nurse far more than the volunteer coordinator or other specialists.

The careful planning done at the beginning will simplify the unfolding of the project. Once the project is up and running, it requires minimal planning in subsequent years. The benefits remain the same and the creative energy is ever present. If you let the students contribute ideas you'll be surprised and rewarded with their creativity. One year students chose to enrich the project by bringing in dogs, bunnies, and kittens. At another school a student belonging to a Native American drum group arranged for a performance by his club. The pounding rhythms drew people from all directions. Another time a young woman brought in her CD player and offered to show (and teach those interested) the latest dances. And each year a few hankies come out as we say good-bye at our farewell luncheons. Sometimes the soiree is held at the nursing home restaurant but most times it's off-campus for student and grandfriend alike.

From time to time, I've been contacted by staff at care facilities. They want my advice about starting a Grandfriend Project at their facility. What follows are tips and suggestions for "growing your own" program. Key issues seem to revolve around time, transportation, accountability for students. Issues which often cross-over into the school domain include designing a program for service-learning, training, and retention of students. School issues ore discussed in depth in this guide.


Over and over I hear from staff at care centers about well-meaning school personnel approaching a nursing home with the offer to "help out." Too often, the school staff have only a slight awareness of what goes on in the facility. By following suggestions in this guide, you can change all that and insure that the program gets off on the right foot, based on a shared agenda and common vision of what is possible. For instance, you could hand the teacher (or student from a club) a copy of the student workbook and this guide. In this fashion, you'll learn what it takes to prepare students and school staff. When teachers review the guide they see that a Grandfriend Project is more than "just bringing in the kids once a week for a sing-a-long." Let them mull over the various planning documents in the appendix. Then Pow- Wow about what you both feel will be possible. If it clicks, you can then get down to goal setting and detailed planning. Likewise, people working in the community will profit by reviewing this guide before working with a school system.

First Steps

Begin by securing the "nod" from both your care facility administrator and the school administrator. To make this happen consider inviting school staff to visit your facility after school. Likewise, a visit to their school is also a worthy investment in team building.

Remember that most teachers live in a very restricted time frame, where their work day is cut up into class periods of unwavering length. They may only have a single class "period" of 50 minutes set aside for the project. If travel time is subtracted the remaining time for visits becomes quite slim. One way around this is to plan the visit period next to a lunch period. That way, the time for the project is expanded without taking away from other class periods. Of course, you can also suggest that they "block" two classes together for the days they come to visit your care facility.

Transportation is also a huge issue. If the school has access to mass transit then that works well most of the time. However, if they have to rely on volunteers (parents) driving, it is less reliable. The best scenario would be if the school district provided a bus or vans. Many larger facilities have their own bus or people mover. If you can contribute transportation services, even if it's just every other trip, this may help get the project off the ground. One could also explore local volunteer agencies such as RSVP to see if they could help secure "rides."

When working with younger students you might want to pair up students to visit with a single resident. High school will be different from middle or junior high school. The older students often prefer to operate more independently. Some high schools will allow their students to use their cars or the public bus system for traveling to and from sites. Likewise, some students may approach residential staff about earning credit in exchange for completing an "independent study" program at their school.

This brings us to the discussion of "service learning" or what is more commonly known as community service. You'll want to find out if the school encourages community involvement and supports it in some tangible fashion (such as teacher release time for planning, transportation, school credit for students, etc.). For instance, more and more schools are requiring that students contribute "x" number of hours before graduating. Other times, teachers are requiring a service-learning piece for completion of their course. It should be pointed out, however, that in my experience nothing is worse that a volunteer who shows saying he or she "hasta be there." You can use application process and the completing of selected workbook assignments as a way to screen out the disinterested individuals. For example, you could require that volunteers complete a chapter a week or a journal a week to maintain their volunteer status.

What can you expect from your youthful volunteers? First of all, they are there to see people and experience the excitement that comes with a new experience. Therefore, begin with a tour. Perhaps in a second visit you can show the new volunteers how to work with patients/residents in wheelchairs. Go over various protocols for hygiene and safety. By the end of this orientation you will know for certain if the individual is going to stick. Content for these two visits is covered in detail in the workbook and this guide.

Don't delay the meeting between volunteers and residents. Try to make this happen by the second visit. I like to begin with some "warm-ups" where people can interact as you observe both residents and students. Make the first few visits fun. It could be as simple as a bingo game with rewards or as quiet as reading and discussing current events from the newspapers. Include an ice- breaker game or two. On one session I had people sit in small groups of five seniors and five students. They were asked to share aloud the following: 1) Name, where they were born, their age. 2) Describe their brothers and sisters and their favorite teachers. 3) Reveal something "naughty" they did when they were younger. (This is usually quite funny). This kind of dialogue can be lead by either the teacher or residential staff associated with the residents and project.

What makes it meaningful to kids is that they get treated like adults. Consult with them, ask them their opinion, look to them for ideas like bringing bunnies or a drum group. Avoid giving students busy work, clean up chores, or clerical work.

In some states all volunteers must be screened with a background records check. Other places require that all volunteers get TB shots or tests. These are always difficult situations. In some instances I have negotiated a rule change on the grounds that my student volunteers would not be working without supervision or that they would be practicing proper hygiene before coming to the facility. You should have a "Plan B" in place for a records check process because I have found. that some of my most devoted students once had an arrest record. You are probably aware that each case needs to be handled individually. A conviction record may not automatically disqualify a student if the arrest does not put the student at risk to re-offend. The arrest may be for an activity unrelated to working with elders or the student may have proven that he or she is serious about making significant personal change as indicated by school records. In the overall, consider each student individually.

To sustain interest over time and to build the project over the years consider both short and long term rewards. Consider asking the school to give students credit for completing 60 hours of work plus written journals. Of course the school work should be monitored and graded by the teacher. As long as it is kept to journals, you might enjoy helping with the evaluation of student work. It's a great way to get to know your volunteers! Keeping track of hours will be important and can be done with standard volunteer forms. Recognition is always important. Students love getting certificates, buttons, and pencils or pens with their name on it (just like the adults). As noted earlier, this can be done in a culminating banquet or visit. Some places offer the students juice and cookies when they come. It is a small cost and it pays big dividends. It is also important to keep your ears tuned for input; ask the students how they like the program. Solicit their suggestions by asking: "What do you like best so far?" or "What else could we do that might be fun?" You'll find more ideas in Chapter 6-Ideas For Expanding The Project..

Finally, don't forget that you might get quite a range of students. There is the gifted student who may bring extra talents to the project. Some excel in the arts, performance, and writing. Perhaps, you'd like to invite them to share their poetry, drama, or school projects. Then there are "my guys and gal" the ones from special education. I am always learning from them. As I write these words I experimented with taking the "lowest functioning" kids in our district this year. These are students who cannot read or write and often have communication problems. That is, they can't be understood very well. I had one kid this year who was brain injured and had physical limitations as well. Don't ask me how, but the seniors they visited developed a way to understand the students--better than I did. Perhaps, the visit alone was enough. My special needs students were very reliable and very focused on the fact that they were being asked to help others. This was important since, for most of their lives, they have had to ask for help themselves. This may be why they have excellent powers of empathy.

My final advice is to suggest that you talk to agency folks who have already worked with schools. Find out from your local experts what plays out best where you live and work. Soon, you'll become the expert. At the end of the project your network with be enriched by new friends from your local school.


If you have an existing volunteer program you can use your existing forms and procedures as a starting point. In this instance, you may wish to treat the teacher or school club sponsor as a volunteer within your larger program. If you do not have an existing program you will find that many of the chapters provide you with ready-made orientation and training materials suitable to both students and adults.

For instance, residential programs will probably not need to cover the chapters devoted to academic skills which are directed at report writing and computer usage. (Though one program in Oregon paired older people with middle school students in a computer lab). The following listing may help you in planning and managing a program run by your facility. The materials can be used to orient and train your youthful volunteers. Certain forms in this Project Leader's Guide may suit your needs. If you want to expand the depth of the experience, ask the young people to read various chapters and write a thought-paper. This takes the form of a short essay with three parts: summary, reflection or reaction, and three questions. This essay takes the place of the worksheet assignments. The next section includes an inventory which lists the materials in the student workbook and Project Leader's Guide around common categories suitable for a community youth-service program.

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Martin Kimeldorf,
© 1999
All Rights Reserved.
Amby Duncan-Carr,
page designer
Material from both THE GRANDFRIENDS PROJECT, A Program Creating Friendships Across The Generations and the companion piece, PROJECT LEADER'S GUIDE FOR THE GRANDFRIENDS PROJECT, A Program Creating Friendships Across The Generations is reproduced here with the permission of the publisher, Fairview Press. Printing or downloading a single copy of this document for personal use is permitted; teachers may reproduce this document for use in a single classroom, only. Transmission in any form or further duplication is prohibited without the express written consent of the author. In addition, any use of the document code, itself, requires the written permission of the web page designer.

Kimeldorf Bibliography
Amby's Resources
Kimeldorf Autobiography

© 1999   Amby Duncan-Carr   All Rights Reserved.

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