Our Elderly Residents
Forest Park Manor residents connect with young teens
Thursday is getting to be Nashaly Velez’ favorite day of the week.
Ditto for Robert Zeno, and a bunch of their other eighth-grade friends at Forest Park Middle School.
Every Thursday afternoon, the students and a couple of teachers walk the eight blocks from their school to Springfield Housing Authority’s Forest Park Manor, where they sit with residents in the Community Center and play cards, checkers, Dominoes, Connect Four and other games. They also find plenty of time to talk, sharing in their lives and forging new bonds of friendship.
For young and old, the afternoon sessions have become cherished time.
“I love it,” said Velez, who is 13. “We get to spend time with some people who like to do fun things. It’s always fun.”
Zeno, who is 14, added, “We get to meet new people, and that’s always fun. I live right in the neighborhood, so I’ll probably be seeing some of them around. I’d come here every day if I could.”
Social Studies teacher Carrie Cora said the idea came from a requirement that all eighth graders must do at least 20 hours of community service during their final school year. Teachers and counselors hunt for opportunities, and the development for elderly residents just around the corner seemed like a perfect fit.
And that is exactly what it’s turned out to be.
“It’s very nice all around,” Cora said. “The students are having a great time, and they’re seeing the elderly in a different way than maybe they’re used to. It’s always good for them to come out and interact with people from their community.”
Indeed, Forest Park is a neighborhood school, meaning the children are fostering relationships with people who live close by to them.
SHA Resident Services Coordinator Candra Cripps said the benefits go both ways, without a doubt.
“It’s been awesome,” said Cripps, gesturing to a good crowd of young and old, in animated fun and lively discussion.
“It’s been successful from the get go. The word has gotten out, and a lot of our residents come out for it. It’s always been a draw to get them here on other days, to talk and play cards and games,” she said.
Sheila Viktorchik has lived at Forest Park Manor for the past 12 years, and now looks forward to Thursday afternoons.
“It’s so much fun,” she said. “You meet some new people, you talk, you get to make friends. I’m here every Thursday. If not here I’d be home watching my show.”
Phyllis Montgomery, another long-time resident, said getting to know young people is especially a pleasure.
“It’s good to get out and spend time with younger kids. I come every Thursday if I can,” Montgomery said.
Resident Lorraine Shaw said, “It’s very much fun. I like being busy, and I love being with young people, so this is just perfect.”
The words of the residents echo that of the middle schoolers practically to a tee.
“I love it,” said Catelyn Vazquez, who is 13. “It’s interesting, enjoyable, and fun. I found out that old people aren’t that old.”
Her friend Cynthia Rosa, also 13, added, “It’s cool to be here. I don’t really think they seem that old, and they love playing cards.”
Cripps and Cora said the program will continue through the school year, and beyond.
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