Teens, seniors bond through Wheeling Township program
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Remember baton twirling and riding in station wagons?
Those two iconic images from growing up in the 1960s in the suburbs came up last week when Wheeling High School junior Leslye Najera interviewed Kathy Morris, 69, who is a resident of the Lexington Health Care Center, located across the street from the school.
Their worlds came together through a novel program started by Wheeling Township's Senior Advisory Board called Generation2Generation. The occasional series brings Wheeling High School students together with Lexington residents in a supportive setting.
"Our goal is to not only introduce these two generations, but to encourage the lively art of conversation," says Kathleen Kasprowicz of Arlington Heights, one of the township's Senior Advisory Board members.
"All we ask is an hour of the students' time," she adds. "Many students have returned to visit their new friend after the event, which we encourage. I think of it as a kind of like a 'Tuesdays with Morrie' story."
Najera played tennis this fall at Wheeling, along with singing in the choir, tutoring middle school students and volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters. She is close to her own grandparents, who came from Mexico, but she had never heard them talk about a baton before, let alone a station wagon.
"It's interesting hearing her stories and learning some life lessons," Najera said after talking with Morris for more than an hour.
Meanwhile, across the room, junior Ivette Lopez of Prospect Heights talked to Christine Streff, 66, whose own children had attended Wheeling High School.
"I'm enjoying talking to someone from another generation," Lopez said, "and hearing about a different time and how things developed into what we have today."
Streff was somewhat ahead of her time. As a former teacher, she transitioned into sales, pitching the idea of earning a master's degree, online to her colleagues in the education field.
"It was the first time a master's degree was offered online," Streff said.
Yet, she still was impressed with Lopez and how driven she was in planning for her future, both as the first in her family to attend college and set her sights high, to a career in biomedical engineering.
"I don't think women were as focused on a career back in my day," Streff said. "The kids today seem a lot more focused on their education and on doing well. It's refreshing."
In fact, students on hand were part of the AVID program at Wheeling taught by Bruce Varela. The college preparatory aims to support first-generation college goers by offering them academically rigorous coursework and enhancement opportunities.
"This is about getting out in the community and meeting new people," Varela said. "The kids love it. In fact, we're coming back in December because they enjoy it so much. They love hearing the different stories and learning about different backgrounds."
Kasprowicz and fellow advisory board member Rich Rosen of Buffalo Grove watched from the sidelines as the latest Generation2Generation session played out.
"It is so heartwarming to see these students and residents interacting in such a meaningful way," Kasprowicz said, "and with no screens or electronic devices in sight."