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

Basic Planning

You should ask yourself some basic questions before implementing your program. The answers you develop will help you selecting students and planning for their participation. While this information is primarily directed at the educator, it might be useful to go over these concepts with your community partners.

The following questions may help you in visualizing and planning your Grandfriends Project. After each essential planning question, you will find lists of particulars which you can factor into your thinking.


The age and ability level of your students can determine how much you can do at first. I have work exclusively with high school students, though I know that many intergenerational programs have been run with elementary or middle school age students. Older students can be expected to do more on their own in terms of assignments and carrying on conversations.

Students with special needs will benefit from a slow start up with the first few meetings structured with Bingo games or interviews. Students with grade-level abilities can move much more quickly into a personal relationship where they are able to sustain conversations for longer periods of time. The level of the student will affect both staffing needs and how long you visit.

While it would be logical to assume that students with limited communication skills will do poorly this has not always been my experience. Essentially, any student who enjoys visiting or talking does well regardless of IQ or other backgrounds and labels. If you have students who exhibit risky or inappropriate behaviors, you will probably have to take fewer students or include more adult supervision. Students who are shy (regardless of other abilities) or those with limited social and verbal abilities will sometimes need to be paired up with more verbal students.

In special education classes you can pull students from self-contained classes. However, if students are mainstreamed for most of the day then they will have to be pulled from regular education class. You'll need to get permission and support from their teachers well in advance. Once everything is agreed to, it is best to send around a memo reiterating why you are going, when, and contact names. A sample memo is included in Appendix B-Sample Start-Up Schedule & Memo.


In 1997 I was asked by the teacher of our "DD" program to take along two of her students. The "DD" programs serves Developmentally Delayed students; students with serious disabilities. Both of the students were unable to read and write and one student had a serious speech impediment which made him difficult to understand at times. I agreed to take the students, but with a reluctant heart.

As it turned out these were my most reliable and enthusiastic students. I never asked them to complete worksheets. Instead, I asked the teacher to do an "oral" journal each week related to our chapter or subject. She would ask questions and type up their responses in our e-mail system. I used my observations of the students at the nursing home and their journals as a basis for giving them a grade. Below are two sample entrees from two journals. After reading these I'm sure you'll want to consider the possibilities in the future.

Describe your Grandfriend to me

She wears glasses and has an oxygen tank. She is tall. She is nice and has a granddaughter. Her own children are in heaven. She likes baseball. One day she was crying when I went in to visit her and then she stopped.

Do you think you'd like a job at this nursing home in the future?

I don't know. I may change my mind when I get older. I don't think I would like to help them with baths. I don't want them to know that though, so they won't think anything bad about me.



If you are working with regular education students then I would use a 1 to 15 ratio of adults to students. Parents, school volunteers, administrators, and support staff might be interested in participating. If you are using a school bus then you only need one driver. Otherwise, the extra driver can also become an extra chaperone. Chaperones can help with keeping track of students, rounding people up for leaving, and supervising proper hygiene (washing hands) upon arrival.

If you are limited to only special education students then I suggest a ratio of 1 adult to 8 students to start with. Coincidentally, this is about how many you can take in a van. If you are including students with serious emotional or behavioral problems then a 1 to 4 ratio is best. In this case, you may want to make sure you have an extra adult and driver to return a problem student to school. However you choose to handle these rare situations, make sure everyone understands the consequences up front.


Transportation often determines everything else. When it is available, that's when you go. If you have the option of going whenever you choose, then it is best to consult with your care facility staff to learn what time works best with residents. I have not had the luxury of choosing a time that is convenient for others, since my class schedule dictates when I could leave campus. As a result, we went during the last two periods of the day in a school van.

Other options might include using a school bus and/or going after school. Your PTA (or parent support) organization might be able to supply money or volunteer drivers. Some nursing homes will want your visits enough to furnish their vans. Also, consider contacting local volunteer agencies especially Retired Senior Volunteer Persons (RSVP) volunteers.


Visiting every other week has worked best in the past and kept enough distance between students and residents so that they both had lots to talk about. However, in another type of project, students were engaged only as assistants in the recreational programs (bingo, wheelchair exercises). This program reported successfully taking students twice per week. Going less than once a month may not allow students the opportunity to build strong bonds.

We also found that 30 minutes was an optimum length for visiting in terms of maintaining student interest and nursing home residents' stamina. You may be able to go longer, but it is best if you keep the visits short in the beginning. When working with low-verbal or special needs students, 30 minutes is the maximum amount of time.

When working with residents who are more able, you can view them as volunteers, similar to the students. In this instance, the residents may sometimes be cast in the role of mentor. In essence, this symbiotic approach results in an intergenerational partnership.

One of the key factors affecting availability of older grandfriends is how often and what time you go. Be sure to go in first and explore options before you begin choosing which students and classes you will select.


Sometimes you won't have a menu to select from and you work with whomever is available. Typical places to consider are listed next:
  • nursing home
  • convalescent center
  • retirement community
  • community based program such as a senior center
  • home based program where volunteers go out to visit in group homes
  • veterans hospital
  • adult day care facility.



You must discuss your various roles up front. Do you want the staff to play an active or background role? In the active mode they would greet you each time and work with you and the students. If you feel you need extra adult supervision, you might request this level of interaction for the first five visits.

In a background position the staff merely sets up the room, connects you to residents, and is rarely seen once you plan the project with them. I generally don't favor this type of role until after you have successfully run a program for one year. I prefer that the staff play an active role for at least the first three visits which includes the initial tour, on-site training, and first visit with residents.

You can build a healthy relationship by first visiting on their grounds. Ask to meet all the key players including administrators, dietitians, rehabilitation therapists, nursing staff, the recreation or activity coordinator, and the volunteer coordinator. While you might begin with the volunteer coordinator, you typically find that you end up seeing the activities or nursing staff most often.

It helps if you have students introduced to people during the tour. Try to get people to learn names whenever possible. Learn the background of the staff by asking how they got started and if they think young people should consider their line of work. In fact, you can invite out key players for a panel discussion in your classroom.


I have found three levels or categories of elders to work with. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. Sometimes, you may be able to pick from all three levels. The terms I am using next are strictly local but you can use the rubric to determine the correct labels and types of people you want to work with.

Independent or Partial Care

Often living in their own apartment or dorm-like rooms which may be shared with roommate. They may even live in a house "on grounds." Very active, ambulatory, involved in lots of activities. Often living in a retirement facility which also provides more intense care for later life. They require only minimal support.

Often these people are very engaging, interesting and busy. They have stories to tell, enjoy doing things off the grounds. They work well with special needs kids who need someone with a supportive attitude.

These people can be more like mentors to kids rather than recipients of volunteer service. May be very busy and hard to get a long term time- commitment. Sometimes you can pair two of them up to alternate with students.

Assisted Living

Often living in their own apartment or dorm-like rooms which may be shared with roommate. Many have limited mobility and stay on the grounds. They may receive help with medicines, feeding, clerical chores, leisure activities, and partake in some form of mental or physical therapy.

Since they don't get out often they very much enjoy the visits. Some people may have difficulty hearing and this makes it harder for students with communication difficulties. Some may experience a decline in health and begin to become less reliable grandfriends. This is one of my favorite groups because they are still able to contribute to your students while receiving services from your students.

Convalescent or Alzheimer's or Nursing Home Care

Often living with supervision perhaps in single or shared rooms. May need more intense monitoring of medical conditions, rarely leave facilities, and can have limited grasp of their surroundings or the people they meet.

Some may have so many personal problems that they are not reliable in either attitude or attendance. These folks needs special understanding and patience.

Additional commentary

Sometimes I have been lucky that the staff is able to recruit or select residents who make good grandfriends. My best recruits come from the Assisted Living types of elders. They are still involved in a great many passions and pursuits, yet are often lonely. Generally, I ask the staff to select residents to meet my kids first.

However, when your grandfriends are quite active, or belong to the Independent and Partial Care level of resident, then it is best to meet with them to clearly delineate the commitment you want. In this instance, I broaden their role to mentor. I've decided the program works best when I get actively involved in recruiting this type of resident-with the help of their staff. We invite them to a meeting and give an orientation.

During this time we cover our program goals, the benefits (as we see it) of an intergenerational program. It is important to let the older residents know your goals about learning about aging and providing a grandfriend for young people who may not have significant older people in their life. After, you've run the program for awhile, you might want to ask past adult Grandfriends if they would like to assist in this orientation.

When asked if they will share their time and enthusiasm with young people, generally most adults will respond favorably. To seal the deal and create a sense of commitment I sometimes use the mentor application form shown in Appendix F-Mentor Profile. This is a structured interview which helps me to get to know the senior grandfriends. This information makes it possible to make better matches with students. The form is designed so that anyone can conduct the interview. You may need help to get everyone interviewed in one session.

Again, please clarify the time commitment and make sure residents can come or can work around occasional glitches.

In most instances I don't make the final pairing of students until we've had at least one or two larger group interactions. This can take the form of a get-to-know-you meeting. People might play bingo, take a tour of the grounds with residents, or share about themselves. Then, I meet with the staff and try to pair people up for future visits which typically are one-on-one. You might find it helpful to summarize who goes with who on the Appendix G-Visitation Roster.


We live in a world of forms and documentation. I have typically had to get permission forms to go off campus and to have photographs taken. I include these forms along with a letter of introduction to the parents. Samples from these can be found in the following appendices.
  • Appendix C-Sample Invitation Letter
  • Appendix D-Sample Elements in A Permission Form
  • Appendix E-Sample Photo Permission.

In addition, in the state of Washington we sometimes had to have a criminal records check for volunteers. This includes students who work as unsupervised volunteers. Some facilities interpret visiting in a person's apartment as "unsupervised."

To help manage my record keeping I have a two to three inch binder devoted to the Grandfriends Project. In this binder I file emergency numbers, permission forms, a list of students going (with a copy given to the front office), grade charts, a copy of the student workbook, this guide, and van keys.

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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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