Volunteer program links two generations

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Jacob Schaperow

Luda was new to the country and struggled with reading. A volunteer with a nonprofit called Interages came to the school regularly to help Luda with her reading skills.

Now, Bea is a volunteer for the same group at the same elementary school, helping students with their reading through the group’s Grandreaders program.

Interages brings adults over 50 together with youths in schools throughout  Montgomery County in programs designed to benefit both parties.

In Grandreaders, for example, volunteers are paired with second grade students at elementary schools. They meet once a week and read books together to improve the children’s reading skills.

Joining forces with JCA

This has been a big year for Interages. The organization celebrated its 25th anniversary in May, and a merger between Interages and the Jewish Council for the Aging (JCA) became official July 1.

The group’s anniversary celebration, held at the VisArts Center in Rockville, commemorated Interages’ accomplishments since its founding in 1986.

“Back in the ‘80s, there was some concept of the competition between young people and old people for funding — something that seems to have risen to the top again more recently,” Interages founder Austin Heyman said.

Inspired to help bridge this gap, Heyman started Interages in 1986, and the program at JCA has been named, in his honor, the Heyman Interages Center.

The merger with JCA will continue to help join the two generations together as partners, rather than competitors, according to JCA’s Chief Executive Officer David Gamse.

“There are many natural synergies between JCA and Interages,” Gamse said. “Given the number of current and emergent human needs and given tough economic realities, those synergies will enable us to accomplish more with less.

“We are planning to combine volunteer recruitment and training initiatives, mount a significant public outreach campaign, and expand programs that improve communication and understanding between younger and older persons, who far too often are segregated from one another.”

Of the merger’s effect on the 200 Interages volunteers, Bea said, “We don’t expect anything different, except that maybe we’ll get some more, or some different, folks in the program, and maybe there’ll be additional programs that we can participate in if we choose.”

A variety of opportunities

One of Interages’ programs, Dialogue Across the Ages, engages adult volunteers and youth in conversation about current events as well as social and political issues.

“It’s very interesting. The kids will talk about how they relate to their grandparents, and the grandparents, quite often, are younger than we are,” said volunteer Michael Rothschild. The average age of an Interages volunteer is 72.

“So they’ll talk about how they relate to them, and then we’ll talk about how we related to our grandparents. The differences aren’t so great, except that our grandparents were born in 1874.”

Rothschild has been with Interages for four years and has participated in two other Interages programs in addition to Dialogue Across the Ages.

One was Global Wizards, which teaches elementary school children about geography. “I thought it was fun to teach geography to grade-school kids, who really eat it up, who are really interested in it,” Rothschild said.

“And I think it’s important and a lot of fun, and it really helps mentor kids who have not been in this country very long and who struggle with their English,” he added.

The other program, Intergenerational Bridges, pairs children ages 8 to 14 in ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) classes with mentors from Interages to ease the transition to a new country.

“With the aging — or the graying, I should say — and the browning of America, intergenerational programs are so important today to bring the generations together so our younger people can understand and learn about the aging process,” said Carol Croll, the Heyman Interages Center director.

For more information about volunteering, contact Tricia Wilson at (301) 949-3551, ext. 30 or email her at wilson@interagesmd.org. The group’s website is www.interagesmd.org.

A volunteer open house will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sept. 8 at JCA’s office at 12320 Parklawn Dr., Rockville, Md.