An afternoon spent with senior citizens at the Center for Adult Life Enrichment in Hewlett proved several of the common misconceptions that many teenagers hold about old people false.
Members of Hewlett High School’s World Language Club truly learned that contrary to our peer’s beliefs senior citizens are not unfriendly or boring. It only took about an hour to realize that senior citizens are quite the opposite. They are warm and amiable, as well as interesting and fun. A meaningful and entertaining afternoon was enjoyed on Dec. 10, as we reached out to the senior citizens who appeared to be separated by many years from us, but are in fact are so close in other ways.
One might wonder why the World Language Club would be interested in visiting these senior citizens. The club members enjoy sharing their love for languages and cultures with others. Visiting the senior citizens at the center, which is conveniently located in the high school’s parking lot, is the perfect opportunity.
How club members would interact with the senior citizens was discussed at a several meetings prior to the visit. It was decided that the visit would include singing holiday songs in different languages, playing bingo games in different languages, distributing holiday cards that we specially designed for the seniors, as well as savoring some tasty snacks together.
Little did we know when preparing for the visit how many senior citizens would actually be at the center when we were to come. We did not know how large of an audience to expect; however, we ran through the songs a few times, created several cards, and prepared the best that we could.
Despite learning that there was a small number of seniors at the center that day, we were determined to make the best of it. The initial awkwardness gave way to group singing — “Jingle Bells” in Spanish and French, “O Christmas Tree” in Italian and "Walking in a Winter Wonderland" in English — and distribution of the holiday cards.
Smiles and hugs served as displays of appreciation from the seniors.
Playing bingo allowed for intimate conversation. Club members reveled in one woman, who is 90, remembering the French she learned in high school. Club members
loved giving the stickers, pencils, agendas, and snowflake ornament prizes to the victorious seniors as they enthusiastically shouted “Bingo!” after accumulating a line of numbers and played until each one of us was a winner.
Whether it was sugary holiday cookies, ringing jingle bells, or classic holiday songs, a vivid sense of the holiday spirit and cheer radiated through the center. Club members enjoyed themselves and were thrilled to notice that the few senior citizens there all really enjoyed themselves too. The ubiquitous “Thank you!” after each cookie, holiday card, and awarded prize made it clear that the senior citizens appreciated our time spent with them. Both the club members and senior citizens are looking forward to additional intergenerational experiences and another exciting visit during the holiday season next year.
“It was really nice to have the high schoolers here. They paid attention and listened to us, making us feel very special,” one of the woman seniors said when the event was ending.
Her smile and slight chuckle of satisfaction was enough to deem our mission a success. Not only did we promote the value of world languages, we touched the hearts of those who often need a simple pat on the back, words of encouragement and some new people to talk to during a very special time of year where solidarity triumphs as a unifier between us all.