All of which makes the program’s premature growth so noteworthy.
This year more than 500 older adults -- residents in Eskaton’s independent, assisted living, skilled nursing and memory care communities -- will partner-up with an equal number of students from local elementary schools. With scheduled monthly gatherings and routine Skype session in between, the Connections are filled with reading and writing, singing and celebrating, crafting, playing and plenty of laughing. It is a unique learning experience -- cross-generational and very reciprocal.
Especially gratifying and humbling to witness are the purposeful relationships developed between the buddies. Though the Connections formally end with the school year, for each of the past three years a number of buddies continue to stay in touch, with the enduring attachments producing added value.
Adolph, 90, and Connor, 10, established a sort of surrogate grandfather-grandson relationship that exemplifies the intensity of this benefit. The two buddies stayed in touch through the summer with letters and occasional visits by Connor and his mom to Adolph’s Eskaton Care Center -- most recently to celebrate the older buddy’s 90th birthday. It was a cheerful validation of the friendship.
This summer after Adolph succumbed to his long battle with leukemia. His daughter let Connor’s mom know that her father had his young buddy’s photo by his bedside, and that “He adored Connor and was so thankful for having him in his life.” Sad as Adolph’s loss is, it is an experiential addition to Connor’s and the Eskaton Kids Connection’s life-long learning curve.
Addendum: Connor wrote a goodbye letter to Adolph that he read at his buddy’s service. “I remember when we first met I was a little nervous, I was worried you might be mean. After meeting you and getting to know you, you were really nice. ... I am really going to miss you, we had good times. ... Maybe we will get another opportunity to play checkers, if they have them in heaven. Love, Connor (Your Jr. Buddy)”