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Drawing the generation gap together
" POULSBO - Don't bother looking in the garden for these flowers. Orange, blue and brown roses? Lilies with pink and green petals? They only seem to grow when kids and seniors get creative each day at Martha and Mary Lutheran Services. With classical music playing in the background, four local youngsters and a group of ladies spent their Monday morning trading colored pens and taking turns smelling scented markers. Some sniffed a bit more overzealously than others. While taking a whiff of a cinnamon-smelling marker, Jarrod Felix managed to color something other than the paper in front of him - his nose. Undeterred by the brown smudge, he continued to work diligently at his multi-colored rose. Alison Brooks, Rachael Simonson and Kendal Yaegle were also very intent on their art, chatting occassionally with residents Frances Barnes, Elaine Holst, Daisy Schaefer, Helene Leighty, Beth Pritchard and Cora Gorman. We're out of red, explained Lidia White, activities coordinator of the aptly named Garden Unit at Martha and Mary. We always run out of red. The roses didn't suffer though and Schaefer's burst through in a splendid rainbow of colors. What do these youngsters and elders have to offer each other beside advice on shades and drawing techniques? They have one another. While creating intergenerational relationships is nothing new for the folks at Martha and Mary, programs encompassed in the ongoing process are flourishing almost as quickly as bright flowers in the Garden Unit. Joanna Carlson, director of Martha and Mary Children's Services, has been helping locals bridge this gap for over 17 years, working to build a family of sorts in North Kitsap. In our society, strengthening the relationships between children and older adults is a priority, Carlson explained. Because children fear what they don't understand, quality interaction between these two age groups can have a positive effect on the young child's development as well as on the elder's quality of life. Children started out visiting the center on just a special occasion basis, for birthday parties and holidays. Their role has since expanded dramatically as has their knowledge of the residents at Martha and Mary. The (children) have come to appreciate 'grandmas' and 'grandpas' in all stages of the aging process, Carlson said, noting that daily visits to the center also serve to break down generational barriers that exist between most kids and the elderly. They have a better understanding of aging, handicaps, illness and death than any child who does not have the good fortune to visit the facility. Most of all, they are able to form close, loving relationships with 'grandmas' and 'grandpas' who can share stories and events from the past as well as perpetuate cultures. Martha and Mary Children's Services currently has over 250 kids, most of whom have either been through, are in or will be going through the inter-generational program. While the kids are certainly growing in more ways than one through the process, the seniors are enjoying it thoroughly as well. The benefits of such a program to elders are obvious, Carlson noted. Older adults can suffer from a feeling of isolation, loneliness and lack of caring. Regular contact with children makes them feel more useful and important. Carlson said her experience was personally enriched in 1995, when she started three summers of inter-generational instruction at the University of Pittsburg. The additional education has made for a much better program overall, she agreed. We've been doing this for years and although there have been some changes, naturally, our mission has always remained the same: to blend the ages, Carlson remarked. "