2017-09-13 / Voice at the Shore

Teens and seniors mix and do mitzvahs at Seashore Gardens Living Center

Voice shore editor

High school students in SGLC’s Summer Sizzlers program helped put on a talent Show at Seashore Gardens last month. Here, (from left) students Samantha Eloy, Max Rosenberg, Cameron Krawiec, Sara Strenger, and Gabrielle Laboy await their turn to perform. High school students in SGLC’s Summer Sizzlers program helped put on a talent Show at Seashore Gardens last month. Here, (from left) students Samantha Eloy, Max Rosenberg, Cameron Krawiec, Sara Strenger, and Gabrielle Laboy await their turn to perform. When you put seniors and teens together under the right circumstances, magical things can happen.

Boundless teenage energy is infectious and much appreciated by the seniors, and the appreciation of elders brings out the best in the teens. Teens are awed by the seniors’ life stories, and teens and seniors alike revel in their newfound friendships.

This is what happened this summer—and for the 15 summers prior to this one—when a group of teens spent seven weeks working and volunteering at Seashore Gardens Living Center in Galloway through the “Summer Sizzlers” program.

“There’s a change in the building when [the teens] come in. It’s not as quiet!” said Michelle Blank, SGLC marketing assistant. “The teens wheel people around, do activities with them, and bring people out.”

Up to 20 teens, aged 14-16, participate in SGLC’s Summer Sizzlers program annually. The teens come from many local high schools, with this year’s group hailing from Cedar Creek, Egg Harbor Township, Mainland and Charter Tech. Each teen works 20-30 hours per week, half of which are paid hours and half volunteer work. In addition to teaching teens the value of giving back, the volunteer hours also help high school students when they apply to colleges or for National Honor Society; both like to see that teens have completed a certain amount of community service hours. The Summer Sizzlers program was the brainchild of SGLC Executive Director Janice Cambron. Knowing that residents loved having kids around, and that 14-16-yearolds were often too young to be hired for summer jobs, Cambron decided to offer young teens the opportunity to work and volunteer at Seashore Gardens over the summer. Now, she says, “it’s my favorite program; I love it!”

It’s fun to see how much the teens grow through the program, she noted. In addition to the changes that come with having a first job, the teens also learn to put aside their stereotypes of older people. According to Cambron, teens often assume that people in wheelchairs have dementia, which is not necessarily true. “They also find that even people with dementia can be related to,” she added.

For Sizzler Samantha Eloy, the summer program was nothing like what she expected; “it was more fun,” she said. She expected residents to be “distant,” but they weren’t. “They look at us like their grandkids,” said Samantha. She and other teens were also awed hearing about the residents’ life stories.

“One woman, who was from Jamaica, told me she went to school on a donkey. A donkey!” said Sizzler Sara Strenger. Another resident, who was from Greece, told Sara about her travels around Europe. “She was so interesting!”

For Sizzler Sydni Morris, a favorite moment this summer was “the first time I made Pearl smile. I made her brownies for her birthday.” Another favorite moment: “When Angelina told me her secret meatball recipe. She doesn’t tell it to anyone! That was a good day,” said Sydni. “Now I have a couple of best friends that I need to come back and visit,” she added.

And of course, the teens learned about aging. “You become more aware of problems— like memory loss and hearing loss. You become more sensitive to it,” noted Samantha.

Sara primarily worked in the “lower-functioning section,” where she sometimes played guitar and sang for residents in addition to helping with meals, transportation, and art projects. Although initially put off by residents’ lack of response to her performances, Sara said she learned, with the help of her supervisor, that “just because you can’t see a reaction doesn’t mean they’re not enjoying what’s going on.”

Seashore Gardens residents had plenty of praise for the Sizzlers. “The Sizzlers are very helpful. They run trivia and bingo, and they do it with a smile,” said resident Dorothy Uman.

“They’re wonderful. They’re helpful with everything. We’re going to miss them like crazy,” said resident Myrna Miller on the last day of the program. “I asked them to come back and visit.”

Miller recalled how one of the Sizzlers, Max Rosenberg, helped her to use her new Kindle. “My daughter gave me a 10-minute lesson [on how to use it] but I couldn’t retain it.” When Max found out, “he made me a chart.”

SGLC board member Judy Schlank saw the Sizzlers in action when her late husband was a resident at Seashore Gardens several years ago. “I was there over the summer and saw these young people come into the facility. They used to take my husband outside for a walk. They would work with residents—doing arts and crafts, reading—little things. I thought it was great to see these young people involved in something worthwhile.”

Schlank was so impressed with the program that she decided to support it. “I sponsored five students this year,” she said. “I just think it’s a fabulous idea!”

Although the Summer Sizzlers program ended in August, Seashore Gardens will soon be working with the Kulanu High School of Jewish Studies on a new program that brings seniors and teens together, called the Legacy Heritage Better Together Intergenerational Fellowship. Though this program, 8th-12th graders from Kulanu (a program for high school students offered by the Board of Jewish Education) will meet with Seashore Gardens residents once a month during the school year for educational and social programs.

Unlike the Summer Sizzlers Program, the Better Together program is more of an “educational program” that encourages “cultural sharing” between the teens and seniors, said Cambron. According to BJE, the teens will also learn from Jewish texts about “our rich tradition of respect for our elderly population.” Kulanu students who participate in the program may receive up to 20 hours of community service.

For more information about Kulanu’s Better Together program, contact BJE director Susan Weis at (609) 822-1854 or bjeatlantic@yahoo.org. For information about next year’s Summer Sizzlers program, contact Sharon D’Angio, SGLC fund development coordinator, at (609) 404-4848 or Dangios@seashoregardens.org. 

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