In his childhood Dixon spent many hours at church camps and visiting senior communities. As CEO of Presbyterian Communities and Services, he dreamed of an organized intergenerational program that would bring together church youth and seniors, removing the generational gaps that appear to be growing in our society.
Miatta Wilson shared that dream. So, as director of children’s ministries at First Church, Dallas, she helped make it a reality. In 2009, Wilson coordinated the first Grace Camp with Dixon’s staff at Grace Presbyterian Village. This past summer, sister communities, Grace Presbyterian Village and Presbyterian Village North, both hosted church youth camps, engaging more than 50 youth — 4th-6th graders from Wilson’s congregation, plus Preston Hollow Church and Northpark Church.
The week-long camps were “experience rich” — for all participants.
Sensitivity activities created understanding and empathy for the sensory changes of aging. Children’s choirs joined resident choirs to teach “Energizers” — the elders especially took pride in how quickly they caught on to Star Trekkin’ and Instanbul!
The residents welcomed the campers with tea parties and fancy hats; they presented stand-up comedy routines, and taught Indonesian Candle-dancing and line dancing. Authors gave writing tips; retired architects introduced drawing techniques. History came alive through the story of a former POW who described his experiences as an officer on a B-17 bomber shot down over Europe during World War II. The students learned world geography as they pinpointed his mission and POW camp location.
Through “Gifts Hour,” residents taught their hobbies and interests. Retired teachers, lawyers, and doctors told stories, and horticulturists explained the art of growing roses. They worshiped and explored the Bible.
The campers gave as much as they received. They washed cars, cleared tables, and painted fingernails for health center residents. When they played outdoors on the grass, running with colorful balloons in hand, they drew crowds on all the walkways and at every window. More than anything, they created smiles wherever they went.
One parent was especially touched. “My 10-year-old son has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome,” she said — a malady that inhibits forming relationships and promotes inappropriate behavior during social interactions. At music time, her son sat next to a woman in Memory Care who no longer speaks. He reached out for her hand and held it gently while the others sang. The two of them listened and smiled; content to be in the moment together.
The benefits are still unfolding. Seniors who attend the participating churches are often hugged and introduced as “Grand-friend.”
“The kids saw how the faith culture affects all areas of life,” said Wilson. “They loved the way the Caring Fund makes it possible for residents to stay at the Villages even if they outlive their resources, and they want to have a part in making that happen.” The children and residents are discussing year-round book clubs and one-day camps so everyone can stay in touch.
Presbyterian youth and older adults – a wonderful combination. At Dallas’ Presbyterian Villages the two groups are finding common bonds and great friendships.
GLORIA BEARD is marketing coordinator at Presbyterian Communities and Services in the Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas area.