Friends Across Generations

Trinity Changemaker Steven Schmidt shares a table with friends at Goddard Riverside's Columbus Avenue senior center.
A Heschel School student delivers a Purim gift at our Lincoln Square senior center.

A couple of times a month Steven Schmidt spends lunchtime with his friends at our Senior Center on Columbus Avenue. “There’s a table of Spanish-speaking ladies and I often sit with them,” he says. He likes to practice his language skills while catching up on what’s happening in their lives.

What’s unusual is that Schmidt is a teenager —and his friends are all over sixty.

Schmidt is part of a volunteer program at Trinity School, just down Columbus Avenue at West
91st Street. Groups of three Trinity Changemakers come to the Senior Center a couple of times a week to help out with the lunch service. Typically, one young person serves coffee while another hands out milk and utensils. That leaves the third person free to socialize.

“I like being around older people because they often have interesting stories to tell,” he adds. “Their life has been different from mine. And their stories are often overlooked.”

Maria Ruballo, one of his regular tablemates, says she enjoys their chats. “He’s a very nice guy, and he likes to speak Spanish!”

“I love it because he reminds me of my grandchildren,” Rosa Flores chimes in.

Goddard is fortunate to have several partnerships that bring young people and older adults together. The Dwight School sends students to do arts and crafts with residents of Phelps House. Concerts in Motion and our own Beacon program do intergenerational concerts with one of our NORCs (Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities). St. Jean Baptiste High School students have visited our Lincoln Square location to do free manicures for senior center members.

Studies suggest activities like these benefit both children and older adults. Intergenerational programs “may decrease social isolation and increase older adults’ sense of belonging, self-esteem and well-being,” according to the nonprofit organization Generations United, “while also improving social and emotional skills of children.”

The benefits seem to flow both ways at Lincoln Square, where lower-school students from the Heschel School visit a few times a month at lunch. Often they sing a couple of songs and then circulate through the dining hall to chat. Recently they handed out festively-wrapped treats for Purim and then did a brief presentation on the significance of the holiday.

“We have visited several times this year and the students are starting to look for familiar faces that they remember,” said Rabbi Anne Ebersman, director of Hesed (Community Service) and Tzedek (Justice) at the Heschel School. “We tell the students that we are proud of them for doing a good deed for other people, but in truth I think that they get as much out of it as they contribute!”