Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Three Special Christmas Days

As an 8 year old in the early 1930’s I believed in Santa Claus. This was during the depression years and we had to go to a church to get the food for Christmas dinner. My 12 year old neighbor used to chide me about my belief. He said Santa couldn’t fit down anybody’s chimney and also leave toys for everybody. I was convinced that he did because he left me an electric train and I knew my parents could not afford it. I showed him marks on the front door jamb which must have been made by Santa’s bag when he came in the front door if he didn’t come down the chimney. Years later my mother told me her employer made the train possible.

Twenty years later, I was happily married. My wife and I had a nine month old boy who was just beginning to walk. On Christmas morning, we took him downstairs and sat him in front of the freshly decorated tree with toys around it. He squealed with delight and in one grand motion he started looking at the bottom of the tree, then slowly let his gaze travel up the tree and when he got to the top he was off balance and rolled over backward. It was a hilarious sight as he recovered quickly and made joyful sounds full of glee.

Now in my mid-eighties I look forward to enjoying Christmas not only in the homes of my children and grandchildren who live nearby but also with my daughter, granddaughters, and great grandchildren, who live in Atlanta, via Skype. Who says there isn’t a Santa Claus.

Written by Thomas Taylor

December, 2012

Grand Success Stories: Anika Rahman

imageAs president and CEO for the Ms. Foundation for Women, Anika Rahman works for equality for genders. Rahman’s interest in gender equality began in her childhood. Growing up in Bangladesh, Rahman found herself surrounded by strong and smart women who were treated unjustly.

Rahman experienced the inequities firsthand. After her mother divorced her father, an uncommon occurrence in Bangladesh, Rahman saw how society treated her mother as an outcast. Then, after she and her mother moved in with her grandmother and aunt, Rahman observed how “my grandmother ran all the finances, she made the business decisions, and even helped build houses, yet she couldn’t have a job.”

Those experiences and others inspired Rahman to advocate for gender equality. "For many years, I assumed that all women had been brought up with the same, empowering mentality [that I’d had]. I later realized that my grandmother's vision was revolutionary not only for her time, but also for ours," she said.

Rahman has spent her adulthood fighting for the dignity of women. The strength her elder female family members provided her continues on through her legacy. “These three incredibly strong women taught me to be unbowed by injustice, to fight it and to be tenacious. I am who I am because of what they taught me. I fight for women's rights and for human dignity for them and for my daughter.”

To read more inspiring stories of people raised in grandfamilies, download Generations United publication Grand Successes: Stories of Lives Well-Raised today!

Social Security Success Stories: Morrisella Middleton


Morrisella Middleton didn’t anticipate that she would need to care for her daughter’s children, but she gladly accepted the responsibility. Despite the day-to-day difficulties that arose, the Baltimore resident raised her grandchildren while working hard as a supervisor of an assisted living facility to provide a good life for them.

Although her daughter Yolanda was married with two children, she fought problems with drugs. Their father Shane Morrell, Sr. held a construction job renovating old houses. One day he was rushed to the hospital coughing up blood. Shortly after he recovered, he experienced another coughing attack with even more blood. Doctors ran tests and determined that Shane had mesothelioma, a form of cancer most often associated with the inhalation of asbestos. His physician told him he never saw such an advanced case in such a young man before and gave him just more six months to live.

“I knew it was important that Shane spend as much time with his kids as possible,” Morrisella said, “so I took them all over town to hospitals, clinics, wherever he was at for his treatments.” His condition worsened. In four months, Shane landed in hospice care.

Morrisella threw a Super Bowl party for him in his hospice room, improving Shane’s spirits. But the day after the party, he took a turn for the worse. When she visited him that day, he told her that he wasn’t going to live much longer.

“He was really weak, could barely move,” Morrisella said. “He was trying to talk to me and I watched him slowly reach over and open a drawer to his night stand.” He pulled out brand-new copies of some paperwork, including his Social Security card that the hospice staff had helped him obtain, and then handed them to her.


“Miss Morrisella,” he said, “please take care of my son.” He also handed her an envelope with some money and instructed her to give it to Shane Jr. at Christmas. Two days later, Shane Sr. was gone.

“Their father died about 11 years ago. I’ve raised their daughter Laquanna since she was four and Shane Jr. since he was three, right after his father’s death,” Morrisella said. “Laquanna is 23 now and Shane is 17, so it’s been quite a while.”

After caring for the children for several years, Morrisella’s world crumbled around her in 2007. Diagnosed with congestive heart failure, malignant hypertension and cancer, she needed to go on disability. A year later, her daughter Yolanda died.

Shortly thereafter, Morrisella lost 80% of her wealth during the economic downturn. She needed to rely completely on Social Security including her contributions from her past employment and the survivor benefits that Laquanna and Shane received.

“Social Security has been my lifeline – my only lifeline,” Morrisella said. “It’s been critical for me in raising the children and their future. Thank goodness for the survivor benefits for the kids and what I contributed to in the 44 years I have worked. It’s been my only token to get by.”

She says her experience taught her what Social Security can mean to a family, something she never fails to communicate to the children.

“I tell my grandkids all the time of the importance of Social Security,” she said. “It’s important to get a job, to pay into the system. It could make a huge difference in your life. It certainly has in mine.”

With her cancer in remission, Morrisella looks forward to a new endeavor: volunteering at a local hospital to help other cancer patients through their treatments.

“My first instinct has always been to hurry up and get better soon and get back to work,” she said, “and that’s what I’ve been trying to do.”

For more Social Security success stories, download Generations United’s publication Social Security: What’s at Stake for Children, Youth and Older Adults.

Solving Hunger and Nutrition Across the Generations: Five and Fit


All the children gathered around Ms. Yvonne for their first taste of kiwi fruit. “If you like it, rub your tummy and say ‘I LIKE IT!’” Ms. Yvonne told them. “If you don’t, stick your tongue out and say, ‘YUCK!’” Precious followed Ms. Yvonne around for the rest of the hour, saying “I LOVE IT!” It was the beginning of a special friendship.

Strong friendships and healthy foods are at the essence of Five & Fit, a program started in 2008 by the Intergenerational Center of Temple University in Philadelphia. The program came about when the Intergenerational Center’s director, Dr. Andrea Taylor, discovered that sugary soft drinks and potato chips were often typical breakfast foods for many Philadelphia preschoolers.

“It made me wonder: if they were eating such calorie-dense, nutrient-lite ’foods’ early in the morning, what were they having for lunch and dinner?” Andrea says.


She knew that unless something changed, these young children – and others to come – wouldn’t get the nutrition they needed to excel. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a poor diet can lead to obesity even among pre-schoolers. In fact, nearly a third of low-income preschoolers in the U.S. are overweight or obese. The CDC reports that obese children are more likely to have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes, which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Andrea was determined to help turn the situation around for Philadelphia’s young children. “For the program to succeed, we needed to involve parents, family members and formal caregivers, and help them change their own behaviors with regard to healthy food choices and regular exercise, Andrea notes. “We decided the best way to do that would be to engage older adults.

“By mobilizing older adults to influence the circle of caregivers that surround young
children, it becomes a win-win situation for all,” Andrea explains. “We reach young children during this very narrow window that shapes their relationship with food for the rest of their lives, and older participants have the opportunity to change the trajectory of young people within their community.”

Guided by the University's Center for Obesity Research and Education (CORE), Andrea created Five & Fit to teach preschoolers about healthy food choices and offer fun ways to increase their activity levels. Yvonne Thompson-Friend, who serves as program coordinator, says Five & Fit concentrates its resources in two low-income areas where children face greater nutrition challenges.

“One is heavily Latino, the other is primarily African-American. In these communities, wisdom from elders is held in very high esteem, says Yvonne. “Many of the young mothers need help or support in learning to shop for and cook with healthy foods. The older adults act as a kind of surrogate grandparent, drawing on their own experience raising children to provide valuable tips for young parents on how to encourage children to eat healthy and get active.


“We adapt our activities to address the specific cultural backgrounds of each site’s student population. For one of our events in the Latino neighborhood we walked around the town square with festive and lively music that brought out entire community. Everyone enjoyed themselves, danced and learned about healthy eating.
“We got all ages involved at the African-American site as well. Teens came in and cleared an area for healthy planting, older adults helped children plant individual seedlings in the new garden, and when the plants were harvested, everyone in the community shared the bounty.”

“The program has benefited everyone,” Yvonne says. “Children are eating new fruits and vegetables and asking that these foods be served at home. Parents have discovered that their children are open to trying new foods and actually prefer many healthy alternatives over less nutritious food. The parents are also grateful that their children’s teachers are making nutrition and activity a priority, and for the older adults who are building relationships with their children.”

Dr. Andrea Taylor adds, “The teachers themselves have a better understanding of what prevents or reduces obesity specifically for pre-school age children. They enjoy incorporating Fit & Five ideas and activities into their lesson plans and love knowing that the children are excited about the program and enjoy learning from the older volunteers. The teachers think of the Fit & Five staff and volunteers as their allies in promoting important changes in the community.

“As for the older adult volunteers, working with the young children has given them a new outlook, and they’ve become effective children’s advocates. Many are improving their own eating habits and exercising more.”

Photos courtesy Yvonne Thompson-Friend and the Intergenerational Center of Temple University

For more stories about hunger and nutrition across the generations, download Hunger and Nutrition in America: What's at Stake for Children, Families and Older Adults

Monday, December 17, 2012

Solving Hunger Across the Generations: Hunger Outreach Team (HOT)


The Hunger Outreach Team (HOT) at Worcester State University (Mass.) is not your typical college class. For one thing, your fellow students can range in age from their late teens to their late 80s. (Worcester offers free classes for Massachusetts residents 60 and older.) For another, the program concentrates on helping people at risk of hunger learn about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and access benefits.

HOT is the brainchild of Maureen Power, a professor who heads Worcester State’s Intergenerational Urban Institute (IUI), where the HOT and other IUI teams tackle tough urban issues, such as hunger, affordable housing, and helping elder immigrants learn English. Maureen is also a pioneer in the area of service learning. Since she began teaching 37 years ago, Maureen has emphasized to students that serving the community is every bit as important as textbooks and term papers.

“The institute channels the energies of students of all ages to address urban issues,” Maureen explains. “The team spirit that evolves among the students is wonderful to watch. There’s a place for everyone.”


“The idea for HOT came after years of students working in food banks and food pantries as part of their studies,” she continues. “From our experience, we realized we could best help people who are food insecure by opening them up to the idea of applying for SNAP. We began to work closely with our Congressman, Jim McGovern, who is a stalwart of SNAP, as well as the Worcester Community Action Council and Project Bread. In 2008, we received a two-year Commonwealth Core Grant to reach out to elderly adults about SNAP.

“We targeted older adults because many were living on very small incomes and were being forced to choose between food and medicine,” Maureen explains. “They also resisted accepting any kind of aid because they thought it was for poor people, not for them.”

Under the grant, traditional-age college students and their elder colleagues joined with low-income youth from area high schools to reach out to the elderly.

“We concentrated on our efforts in senior and public housing sites, as well as local councils on aging,” Maureen notes. “We talked with older individuals and let them know that they could be eligible for SNAP. We even developed a SNAP bingo game as a fun way for them to learn about SNAP. The game was a big hit and elder residents learned a great deal in the process. At the end of our visits, we’d leave additional information and explain that we would be back to help them apply and also do any follow-up necessary on their application.”

During the grant period, Ending Hunger Together crew developed an excellent working relationship with the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance, which handles all SNAP applications. That collaboration, along with the streamlining of the SNAP application process, made it easier for older people to apply and receive benefits.

Over the past two years, HOT members also realized that many of their fellow college students, who were struggling to put food on the table, were probably eligible for SNAP. However, few of these young students knew about the program
and consequently hadn’t applied. “These students were hungry and running on empty,” Maureen explains. “We know college is stressful and we didn’t want food to become a setback for students in need. So, we created an office in the Urban Studies department where we help students apply for SNAP in confidence.”

Maureen says that the intergenerational aspect is HOT’s heart and soul. “Hunger spans the ages. Older adults worry that young people, children and families don’t have money for food. Young people worry that older people are not getting their nutritional needs met.

“It’s very heartwarming to see the way people of all ages work together. Everyone is deeply committed to HOT. There are no barriers; we all work on an equal footing.”


For more stories about hunger and nutrition across the generations, download Hunger and Nutrition in America: What's at Stake for Children, Families and Older Adults

Solving Hunger Across the Generations: DC Central Kitchen


Robert Egger, founder of DC Central Kitchen, never stops envisioning new ways to attack hunger and food insecurity. His approach to hunger isn’t simply to feed, it’s to empower and strengthen those who are hungry. Above all, his approach aims to build a sense of community so that hunger is everyone’s concern and ending hunger is everyone’s mission.


One of Robert’s most enduring efforts has been the DC Central Kitchen. As the Kitchen’s website explains, “We use food as a tool to strengthen our community.”

Through job training, healthy food distribution, and local farm partnerships, DC Central Kitchen offers path-breaking solutions to poverty, hunger, and poor health.

Since its founding in 1989, DC Central Kitchen has prepared 25 million meals for low-income and at-risk neighbors in Washington, DC. The 5,000 meals the kitchen distributes every day are distributed at little or no cost to 100 nearby homeless shelters, transitional homes, and nonprofit organizations, saving them money and nourishing their clients.

One of the Kitchen’s jewels is the intergenerational Campus Kitchens Project (CKP), which meshes community service for students and with a model approach to relieving hunger. CKP empowers the next generation of leaders to implement innovative models for combating hunger, developing food systems, and helping communities help themselves.

Robert founded the project in 1992, when the graying of America was fast becoming a topic of concern and many schools were taking a renewed interest in service learning. In Robert’s mind, as America aged, a growing number of older adults would be in danger of food insecurity, yet current programs, such as food pantries couldn’t answer the problem. By getting young people involved in service to seniors, CKP could offer a kinder, gentler solution. “It’s a terrific way to help older people who are terrified of the future and who are broke financially and spiritually,” he says. “We
don’t want to just feed people’s stomachs, we want to do it in a way that gives them a reason to live so they want to eat another day. And we want young people to feel good about giving back to their elders.”


Intergenerational by design, CKP operates in 33 schools around the country, partnering with high schools, colleges, and universities to share on-campus kitchen space, recover food from cafeterias, and engage students as volunteers who prepare and deliver meals to the community.

According to Robert, “We fervently believe that this type of intergenerational
program can reveal the power of community to address problems and build bridges between the generations. The sense of being needed bonds people. For example, here in Washington, DC, students at Gonzaga College High School became fast friends with many of the seniors they serve through their campus kitchen. Now, the older adults lock to Gonzaga football and basketball games and are a very vocal cheering section.”

Along with developing strong relationships with older adults, CKP student volunteers learn a wide array of skills through their service work. “In the past, school cafeterias were treated as filling stations where students came to fill up on food then leave. But we believe cafeterias should be a dynamic learning lab,” Robert explains. “By encouraging students to run their own Campus Kitchens, we can help them apply the lessons learned in college classrooms to real-life situations.”

CKP students develop partnerships, plan menus, run cooking shifts, organize drivers, garden, glean, and teach nutrition education to children and families. They keep track of all of the paperwork (to ensure everything’s being done safely), organize fundraisers, develop curriculum, and recruit new students to get involved.

As a result of their service learning, CKP student volunteers are acutely aware of hunger issues and continually look for new ways to end food insecurity. “Their activism can help spark some of the important changes that need to take place throughout our society,” Robert believes. “Currently, federal policies are divided: one for seniors; one for children. If we treat age groups separately, we build false generational divides when we should be building bridges. Hunger affects all ages, so we should gear our federal policies for all ages.”

Robert believes CKP students will lead the way in revamping America’s approach to hunger. They have the experience, they have the skills, and they proven they have the heart to get the job done.

For more stories about hunger and nutrition across the generations, download Hunger and Nutrition in America: What's at Stake for Children, Families and Older Adults

Grand Success Stories: Ray Krise


A year before Ray Krise was born, a Skokomish spiritual leader cautioned his grandparents that they needed to change their ways because a future grandchild’s life was at stake. Turned out that life was Ray’s.

Although Steve and Naomi Johns long ago had strayed far from their tribal roots, they were swayed by the wise man’s prophesy. Under his guidance, they gave up alcohol and began studying their ancestors’ ancient ways so they could pass on their identity and culture. A year later, they felt blessed to be able to take in their newborn grandson, Ray, because his parents couldn’t care for him. Eventually, young Ray’s grandfather became a great spiritual and tribal leader and, from 1965 until his death in 1980, was an elder in the Native American Shaker Church. His grandmother became known as one of the best fishermen among the Skokomish—a great honor in tribal tradition.

“If not for being raised by my grandparents, I would not have a cultural identity,” Krise explains. “I wouldn’t know my family lineage and my son would not bear the name Tcha-LQad—a name that is 17 generations old.

“My grandparents raised me in old, traditional ways—no running the streets or going to dances like other kids my age. Instead, I was involved in the spiritual side of life. My passion was going to drum circles and listening to old people talk and perform ceremonies. That helped me develop a real sense of pride and belonging.”

When asked about his grandparents, Krise had no difficulty finding words to describe them. “My grandfather was probably one of the kindest men I’ve ever known,” Krise recalls of the man who taught him to carve totem poles. “He was also a leader. I was proud to accompany him when he stood beside Marlon Brando during the fishing wars in the 1970s. That’s when the Skokomish and other coastal tribes were fighting for the right to fish in waterways off the reservation.”

Although Krise lost his grandfather in 1980, his grandmother was in his life until 2005. “She was the most beautiful woman in the world, very caring and always giving of her own. My cousin and I took care of her until her last days. It was a privilege.”

Today, Krise is a highly respected community spiritual leader, among other roles, having trained to be a speaker and hereditary chief since he was 11 years old.

Krise is also a father and grandfather. “It’s pretty awesome having my children and grandchildren in my life. We live on the same property and sing the same songs my grandparents sang to me as a baby. I’m thankful every day for how I was brought up in life.”

To read more inspiring stories of people raised in grandfamilies, download Generations United publication Grand Successes: Stories of Lives Well-Raised today!

Solving Hunger Across the Generations: New Mexico Collaboration to End Hunger


During summer, children in the United States experience higher rates of food insecurity because they are not in school receiving free and reduced meals. The New Mexico Collaboration to End Hunger recognized that over 200,000 children in the state were hungry over summer months. In response, it created the Intergenerational Summer Food Program. The program links children to free breakfast and lunch at community centers, churches, schools, parks, Boys & Girls Clubs and senior centers across the state. In addition, seniors are recruited to pack and distribute weekend food bags every Friday over summer so that children are provided nutritious food. The interaction of seniors, and many times teenage volunteers, packing the bags and then handing them to each child is a fun activity that brought all volunteers back week after week. Seniors also plant, tend and harvest community gardens at many of the summer food sites. This is a particularly rewarding activity to the senior volunteers because many children have never seen how a tomato or other vegetable grows. At several sites, seniors have become so involved with the children that they also volunteer to help with other activities. These include art, dance, cooking, nutrition education, jewelry and drum making - all demonstrating the incredible skill sets of the senior volunteers.

For more stories about hunger and nutrition across the generations, download Hunger and Nutrition in America: What's at Stake for Children, Families and Older Adults

Social Security Success Stories: Beth Finke

imageNative Chicagoan Beth Finke knows first-hand how Social Security can benefit children and their families. As the youngest in a family of seven children, she became a first-time Social Security recipient at three-years- old following the death of her father. At the time, four of her brothers and sisters also lived at home. Beth and her siblings received Social Security survivor benefits, which allowed her mother to make ends meet.

“The survivor benefits literally allowed our family to survive,” Beth said.

In addition to helping her family survive, Social Security played another important role in Beth’s life as a young adult. During the years Beth attended college, the government continued to provide Social Security benefits for youth up to age 22 enrolled in college. By eliminating the need to immediately enter the workforce at age 18 to support themselves and their families, this extension helped many students like Beth complete their post-secondary education successfully. This benefit, since rescinded and unavailable for today’s young adults, made it possible for Beth to go to college and get a degree in journalism.

“Without the college degree, I don’t where I would be,” Beth said. “We certainly did not have the resources to manage that, and if I didn’t have the student benefit, I would never have been able to go.”

At age 26, Beth lost her sight from a rare disease called diabetic retinopathy. As she adjusted to her vision loss, the education that she received from Social Security survivor benefits became even more critical to her future success. With the aid of a talking computer and the skills she learned as a journalism major, Beth launched a successful career as a writer. Now an award-winning author, teacher, and speaker, Beth credits Social Security for enabling her to support herself as an adult and to give back to others. Today at 52, she often speaks to young children about her experiences and reads to them from her children’s about her guide dog Hanna.


“All my adult life, I have worked hard,” Beth said. “Social Security paid my way through college so I could work and pay into the system myself, which I am very happy to do.”

For more Social Security success stories, download Generations United’s publication Social Security: What’s at Stake for Children, Youth and Older Adults.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Solving Hunger Across the Generations: Olivia and Richard

imageFor much of her adult life, Olivia had known adversity. But the greatest test of her spirit and endurance would come at the age of 53 when she became permanent caregiver for her three-month-old grandson, Richard. The story of how Richard came to be in Olivia’s care was a tragedy in itself. The baby’s father, Olivia’s son, had served in the military, including an 18-month tour in Iraq. When he returned to the States, he had changed. No longer the responsible, patriotic young man Olivia had known, he was angry and troubled; after being discharged from the Army, he turned violent. In the course of a robbery attempt, which also involved his wife, he killed a man. With both her son and daughter-in-law incarcerated, Olivia stepped in to care for her tiny grandson.

The timing was tough for Olivia: she had already raised two other sons and had two other grandchildren. In addition, she had suffered an accident on the job while working as a nuclear medicine tech and had become disabled. For some
time, she had been struggling to live on the income from her disability payment, and had moved in with a friend, sleeping on her floor. Olivia knew that her meager funds would not cover her grandson’s food and other necessities, but she
was determined to care for him.

A long-time activist, Olivia sought advice from an old friend, Jim Graham, who serves on the District of Columbia’s City Council. She says that Jim “firmly and fairly” insisted that she seek help from the City and pointed her to the Columbia
Heights Collaborative. Ruled ineligible for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) because of her disability payment, Olivia applied to the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program to cover Richard’s formula, baby food, and
other nutrition needs. She also received help in enrolling Richard in Medicaid.

But then, Olivia notes, it was the community who embraced her. Martha’s Table, a valued local resource, came to her aid with groceries and clothing. Richard was enrolled in the organization’s day care center, and only recently left there
to attend the preschool at Francis-Stevens Educational Campus.

Olivia continues to rely on local food sources, including So Others May Eat, the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, and SHARE. This year, Olivia prepared her Thanksgiving meal from a food basket she received from a local program.
Olivia is enrolled in the Grandparent Caregivers Program, administered by the DC Child and Family Services Agency and receives a small stipend that helps her afford to care for Richard. She is also working with LIFT, a program that arranged
for her to work one-on-one with a student at American University in negotiating a dispute with her current landlord.

As the saying goes, “it takes a village to raise a child.” Martha’s Table, So Others May Eat, SHARE, and the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church make up a large part of Olivia and Richard’s village—and they are grateful to have such a
wonderful support system. Still, it takes a lot of work for this grandmother to keep things together. The payments Olivia receives are not automatic, her food resources are scattered and barely adequate, and her disability makes everything harder. But if you meet Olivia and talk with her, she expresses only gratitude to all the organizations that help her survive. She says: “I don’t have a sense of entitlement, but I am grateful for the support.

For more stories about hunger and nutrition across the generations, download Hunger and Nutrition in America: What's at Stake for Children, Families and Older Adults

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Solving Hunger Across the Generations: St. Louis Meal Runners


Pamela Guest grew increasingly concerned as she watched her volunteers lift the heavy meal carriers and coolers, and place them in their vehicles. It was tough work. Each volunteer was responsible for delivering a hot meal, fruit and milk daily to 16 homebound adults. Without these dedicated volunteers, homebound and frail elderly would not have the hot, nutritionally balanced meals they needed to live independently in their own homes.

As administrator for the South County Senior Resource Center in Lemay, Missouri, Pamela knew that her volunteers were dedicated to their task and rarely complained. But she was also aware that while their spirits were willing, many of their bodies were struggling under the heavy lifting. After all, the majority of her volunteers were in their 70s.


“Too bad you can’t use kids to help deliver meals,” a friend said in passing one day. That chance remark gave Pamela the solution she needed. “When my friend said that, a light bulb went off,” Pamela explains. “I thought, ‘Why can’t we find a way to get young people involved?’”

Inspired, Pamela contacted the principal of nearby Bayless High School to discuss the possibility. During the conversation, the principal mentioned that the school already offered a class called Student Service Learning that emphasized service to the community. Perhaps the class could give students the opportunity to help deliver meals and earn school credit at the same time.

Following several months of meetings, paperwork and training, Meal Runners was launched—and proved so successful it’s now in its seventh year. Today, over 30 young people take part each year.

All volunteers—students and older adults alike—receive training on intergenerational dynamics. The training helps sensitize them to avoid negative stereotypes.

“The older adults and teens work together in two-person teams to deliver meals to 120 homebound elders in the area,” Pamela notes. “The older volunteers pick up their student partners at school and bring them to the senior center where the students now do the lifting and packing of meal carriers and coolers. Then together, the two-person teams deliver the meals.”

“The feedback has been extremely positive,” Pamela says. “The program has helped break down intergenerational barriers and brought people of all ages together to help their hungry and elderly neighbors.”

“Many of the older adults in the program—both volunteers and the homebound—used to be leery or afraid of kids. Now, they see that young people’s hearts and minds are in a very positive place and that these kids are headed in the right direction.”

“One of our drivers, Mr. Unger, always talks about how much he loves the program and how it’s opened up new adventures for him. He’s been paired with students from different cultures—Bosnian, Korean, Hispanic—that he might never have been exposed to. And, he’s become a mentor for a number of youngsters. Kids are interested in his life story and opinions; they ask for his advice, and he helps guide them in a positive direction. Last year, several students nominated him for the MetLife Foundation Mentor Award. He won! That award means a great deal to him.”

“Meal Runners has had a profound impact on the student volunteers as well. Those who may have started out volunteering in order to earn a grade, now see the need in our community. They recognize how important it is to give back. They are also learning to see older adults in a new and respectful way. They realize that not everyone has someone to look after them, but that everyone needs a level of care and concern. Because of their involvement in Meal Runners, some students decided to pursue gerontology after graduation. One even interned with our agency’s nutrition department.”

Pamela, too, has received national and state awards for “Best Intergenerational Program.”

“The change in mindset is so important! We’re producing the next generation of volunteers, and these kids are setting a great example for their peers and older adults alike!”

Driving for Miss Lola

Right after Meal Runners began, “Miss Lola”, just home from the hospital, began receiving home delivered meals. She lived alone, had no children or living relatives, and seemed to have given up. Her loneliness was evident in the way she lived: When students first started showing up to deliver her meals at midday, Miss Lola answered the door in her nightgown, her hair unkempt. She received her meals in silence and closed the door. But the student volunteers had been taught they should make an effort to speak with their homebound neighbors. One day, a young female volunteer gently asked, “Miss Lola, could I give you a hug?”

That simple gesture turned Miss Lola’s life around. She hugged the student, and both began to cry. More important, they began to talk. The next day, when the student and her older volunteer partner drove to Miss Lola’s, they were astonished to see her dressed and well-coiffed. From then on, Miss Lola always wanted her hug. Those who knew her said the end of her life was happier because of the care she’d received from the kids.