Bridging The Gap
OmBUDDIES program joins seniors and kids in a bond that transcends years.
Thursday, June 11, 1998
Ask OmBUDDIES what they like about the program and they all have only one thing to say: everything.
Once a week OmBUDDIES get together, seniors in nursing homes and assisted living facilities and kids, mostly over 9 years old and into their teens. They share activities like games and crafts or field trips, but mostly they talk.
"It''s fun," says Samantha Rivera, a sixthgrader at Sherwood School in Salinas. "I like visiting. They''re very talkative and inquisitive," she says of the residents at Salinas Rehabilitation and Care Center. "We talk about school and food and relatives and everything. They ask a lot of questions and we have a ball."
Samantha and other members of the Boys & Girls Club of Salinas Valley visit the center once a week. On a recent visit, they made Mother''s Day cards and ended the afternoon with a spontaneous chorus line, singing, dancing and laughing as they went. The seniors clearly loved it.
The concept behind OmBUDDIES is simple: Kids and seniors benefit from being in each other''s company. The kids get exposed to an entire generation that--decades ago--would probably have shared their lives on a daily basis. The elderly folks get a dose of energy and enthusiasm that they might not otherwise get exposed to in a care facility. The program has been around for about four years. Currently five facilities and about 50 kids participate, many through the Boys & Girls Clubs of Salinas Valley and Monterey Peninsula.
"The life in a child, the excitement, is something they''ve been missing. They''re needy for the companionship," says Center Activities Director Margaret Berlanza.
"It does wonders for them," says Tiffany-Cox Dilbeck, administrator at the Salinas center. "It''s something they look forward to. Their children are grown, and they don''t see them very often. There are not enough kids for the residents."
Getting more kids into the program is the job of Vicki Bamman, executive director of Ombudsman for Long-Term Care, a nonprofit United Way agency whose mission is to enhance the quality of life and protect the rights of residents in long-term care facilities.
Monterey County has some 60 assisted living facilities and 19 skilled nursing facilities, totaling about 2,500 beds. Bamman, long interested in intergenerational programs, started OmBUDDIES after learning of a program in Arizona where seniors visited schools. Because she couldn''t get frail seniors to the kids, she decided to bring the kids to the seniors. During visits to the care facilities, a trained activities director and a trained OmBUDDIES coordinator supervise the activities.
Participation for kids and seniors starts with a short orientation for each group when they join the program. Seniors learn about OmBUDDIES; since many are parents, they know what to expect from kids. But most kids have never been in a care facility, so they''re briefed about the sights, sounds and smells they will soon come to know. They learn about old folks and sick folks and even do a little role-playing to acquaint them with what to expect and what to do. Once the visits start, kids and seniors match up on their own.
"I would love to see the program grow," says Bamman. "It''s such a win-win situation. Both (kids and seniors) take the responsibility very seriously and it builds self-esteem for both. I see the kids being totally comfortable and communicating with the seniors. It''s not scary to them. They are learning about age and respecting old age."
Lisa Bonham has been OmBUDDIES volunteer coordinator at Salinas Care since the program''s inception. "The kids learn there is another side to life. I''m amazed how considerate and concerned they are. It has restored my faith in kids."
Bonham is assisted by Alejandra Nieto, who has been an OmBUDDY for a year; Alejandra, 18, now attends Hartnell College and is thinking of a teaching career. She stays with the program because she likes doing it. Bonham feels especially fortunate in her group to have some kids who are fluent in Spanish; although some residents are not fluent in English, they are still able to participate.
"All the children are so sweet and courteous, they could come every day," says Maria Marquez, 93. Speaking in Spanish, she praises the program for everything it has given her, but especially for people to care and make time for us. "I am thankful for it." Her OmBUDDY, 8-year-old Gaby Perez from Sherwood School, stays close to her side. "We talk about anything and we like playing bingo," says Gaby.
Not all OmBUDDIES programs are exactly like the one at Salinas Care. At Pacific Grove Convalescent Hospital, the National Charity League''s local chapter supports OmBUDDIES. Instead of group activities, visits are one-on-one. However, since the League promotes mother-daughter activities in its goal of teaching the importance of giving to the community and showing respect for those in need, the visits become two-on-one--mother, daughter, and resident.
At least once a week, Noni McVey and her daughter Jordana, 14, visit Frances Van Matre, 80, not to do anything in particular, but just to talk. Frances, who has no family in the area, looks forward to the visits. "I like to be with people I like," she explains. "I''m a very lucky person."
On this afternoon, Jordana brings photographs taken of her and her friends the night of the freshman dance. They share the photos as Jordana tells Frances about her friends. They also talk about Jordana''s excitement at making the Carmel High School cheerleading squad. Frances asks Jordana about her career interest in advertising and tells how she went to beauty school during the Depression and operated her own beauty shop.
"I like visiting," says Jordana, "and hearing the stories of what Frances did when she was a kid. I like seeing her be happy." cw