'A special bond': Monthly Intergenerational Play Date brings seniors, children together

Who knew 30 minutes could mean so much?

The half hour meant the world to residents of the Waterford at Bridle Brook and children alike who gathered for an Intergenerational Play Date in the senior living facility's private dining room last Friday.

"I love it," said Erin Fones, who brought her two children, J.T., 4, and Ganon, 1, to the event.

"I think it makes them (the residents) feel younger again and gives them something to look forward to and something exciting to do."

Marilin Miller, who is a resident at the Waterford at Bridle Brook, sat next to J.T. to enjoy her cookie.

"I've never decorated a cookie," Miller said. "But I've ate cookies before," she joked.

Nearby, Alyce Grabe, a resident, enjoyed observing the children and was impressed with their cookie decorating skills.

"I'm glad to see the kids can do it," Grabe said. "I didn't expect them to be able to. They're having a lot of fun."

Grabe couldn't help but take note of how many residents joined the children in the play date.

"Some of our residents are coming out who don't usually come out," Grabe said. "That's nice."

Her favorite part? "Seeing the kids and seeing my friends interact with them."

Across the room was resident Violetta Chandler who couldn't help but smile at 3-year-old Amelia Antonelli seated next to her licking the frosting from her utensil while decorating a cookie.

"The kids are so cute," Chandler said. "It's just good to see all these little ones coming out."

"You don't get to see 'em very often," she added. "It peps me up."

Amelia's mother, Dana Antonelli, said it was the second time bringing her daughter to the event.

"I think it's really fantastic," she said. "She has a really great time."

For Dana Antonelli, the event is one that hits home for her as her grandmother lives in a facility similar to the Waterford at Bridle Brook.

"It's kind of far away, and we don't get to see her that much," she said. "It's nice to be around other senior citizens."

In the Antonelli's prior trip to the Intergenerational Play Date, Amelia chatted with a woman named Alice, which is the same name as her great-grandmother.

"She was talking about the other grandma Alice after the event," Dana Antonelli said.

"I think for the residents here, it seems to really brighten their day."

Near the Antonellis and Chandler were resident Joyce Hipskind and 1-year-old Maddie Tarrant, who sat in her mother's (Kristin Tarrant) lap.

"It's just marvelous," Hipskind said of the play date. "It's such a joy to be around young children."

Hipskind's face was all a glow as she visited with Maddie Tarrant.

"Her blue eyes ... oh my goodness," Hipskind said. "I just fell in love with her. She's just so sweet. All of them are."

"It makes me wish I were young again and starting all over again," Hipskind joked. "It's just wonderful."

The Intergenerational Play Date is a partnership between the Waterford at Bridle Brook and the Mahomet Parents Network, a local organization that helps connect parents and provides social opportunities for both them and their children, ages 5 and under, as a way to get to know one another before the children begin kindergarten.

The idea for an Intergenerational Play Date began when Tara Allen, a founding member of Mahomet Parents Network, saw a post on Facebook from a friend who attended a similar event with her children.

"My gears started turning," she said.

At the time, the group used the Waterford at Bridle Brook's conference room as a meeting space for play dates but quickly outgrew the space.

"As our kids got older, we were outgrowing the space, but I really wanted to continue going in some capacity," Allen said.

In March, Allen decided to give the Intergenerational Play Date a whirl in Mahomet, but her daughter became ill the day of the event.

Allen passed the baton to Mary Alexander, who has been with the Mahomet Parent Network since its early beginnings as Mahomet Tots, for her to lead the event.

Though the first play date was not as successful as Allen and Alexander hoped, the pair did not lose sight of their vision.

"My grandfather just recently moved into Bridle Brook and thinking from his perspective, that's what fueled me about these play dates," Alexander said. "He's 84. He's lived a full life, but there's so many experiences he can still have. There's still so many things he can enjoy now, and I want to make these experiences the best for both parties."

Alexander shared her sentiment with Waterford at Bridle Brook activity director Jenna Manolakes.

The two have collaborated each month with different activities from Play-Doh to puzzles and have even changed the location of event space every now and then to encourage play date attendance.

On Friday, their efforts paid off tenfold.

"The residents were saying just how many kids were there," Manolakes said. "They were saying how great it was and how well-behaved and polite the kids were. They loved seeing the kids in the halls here."

The biggest joy for Alexander and Manolakes in the interactions between the little ones and the residents were rewards following the event.

"(The residents) like the younger groups coming in as it often brings back memories of when they had children or even when they were kids themselves," Manolakes said. "It's important to bring up memories. Memory Care residents (those who have Alzheimer's or dementia) don't engage as much as the rest of the residents."

Manolakes also sees the play dates as an overall boost for residents.

"They don't get to see that much energy during the day," Manolakes said.

"I think it energizes them to see how much energy a child can have, especially on sugar," she joked.

As for the children, Alexander's hope is that the interactions allow them to see "people for people."

The fruition of her efforts are already coming to light at the play dates, where Alexander sees her daughters, Journey, 8, and Walden, 2, confidently approaching and chatting with residents.

"It doesn't intimidate her (Walden) to see people in wheelchairs," Alexander said. "Even my older daughter (Journey) has become more comfortable with that kind of thing and she really likes helping to get the residents and the little kids to interact."

Initiating conversation and interaction is only the start of Alexander's goals for the play dates. Over time, she hopes to see a true connection form between the children and the residents.

"A lot of the kids look up to these people as grandparents in a way; it's a special bond," Alexander said. "Hopefully, as we do these more often they'll get to know them more personally and have a name bond and want to spend time with that person."

Beyond the child-resident bond, Alexander hopes parents even benefit from and enjoy the intergenerational event.

As a parent herself, Alexander said she often leaves the play dates in awe of the seemingly effortless connection formed between the two age groups.

"Both generations make friends so easily, whereas us in the middle it's hard to make friends with other people," she said. "Watching these kids pick up with the residents, they're not caught up in everything."

"It's just magical," she added.

Alexander hopes the event will only continue to grow. The nextIntergenerational Play Date takes place at the Waterford at Bridle Brook from 10:45 to 11:15 a.m. Aug. 17.

"Mahomet is the perfect place to do something like this because of the community," Alexander said. "You have to have a village to raise kids these days."

"I hope this is going on when I'm in a nursing home," Alexander added. "I hope they continue to bring little kids. I think it will be really neat."

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