1. Connect


The first step to any GrandPals project, regardless of what it might look like in your unique setting, is to begin by making connections. After all, at the heart of the project is a connection between a young person and a senior. So it naturally follows, that anyone seeking to run the program is going to need to begin building a bridge between a community of seniors and a community of students. Once this connection has been established, other supporting connections can also be developed.

I think the important point is that it is all about relationships and connections. We built relationships. I then pitched the idea and people stepped forward and said, “Yes. We want to be involved in this program.”Cecilia Vespa - Community Librarian

Connecting with a Community of Seniors


When it comes to connecting with a community of seniors, there are a number of different options: 

A) Seniors in a local retirement residence or long term care facility; 

B) Seniors in your local community at large; 

C) Seniors beyond the local community.

A) Connecting with seniors in a residence

Seniors centers and retirement homes are places that provide ongoing programming for seniors. They are always looking for opportunities to help their residents connect with each other and with the community at large. Reaching out to an activities coordinator with a well-thought out plan for a project is a great way to get the ball rolling. 
I went into the residence, met with the social coordinator, I said,

¨I have 16 students and we’re looking for 8 seniors that we can meet with weekly. The students will create a lifebook for the seniors¨.

She jumped on it and was excited. That was how we got started.
Kristie Walraven – Teacher

B) Connecting with seniors in the local community

Personal Connections

Who do you already know that is an active part of the seniors community in your town? Your parents or grandparents? A friend from another community program? Using personal connections when reaching out can lead to a group of participants who already know you and want to support your vision.
I was able to connect with other people in the community through my mom. My mom, being a senior herself, said she was very keen, and the next thing I knew, she was actually encouraging some of her friends to come and join in. Lynda Brown – Grade 5 Teacher

Local community organizations

Another option is to connect with seniors programs taking place at local public libraries or places of worship. Many public libraries already have pre-existing programs for seniors, and enlisting the help of local librarians can help build an organizing team. Likewise, many churches have programs for their seniors. A partnership with a local church or other religious institution can be the beginning of making a connection with a wonderful community of seniors.
My number one answer for connecting with seniors in your local community is “faith groups”. You are going to find a lot of older adults that you can really engage. And the best way to communicate is through the faith leader, because they will get the information out. Heather Thompson – Community Development Halton

C) Connecting with seniors beyond the local community

A third option, when seeking to connect with a group of seniors for your GrandPals project, is to consider the possibility of reaching beyond your local community. With the constant improvements in videoconferencing technology, this avenue is becoming more and more of a possibility.

We developed a program through Adobe Connect. Every two weeks we came together on a Wednesday and the kids would talk with the seniors. They had great conversations about their lives.Heather Thompson - Community Development Halton

Connecting with a Community of Students


As mentioned, when initiating a GrandPals project, one must begin with a twofold connection. Once a connection has been established with the community of seniors, the next step is to develop a connection with a community of students.

If you are a teacher, this connection with a group of students should be fairly straightforward. Likewise, if you are already a member of a faith group, connecting with a group of youth might be fairly straightforward. If you work for a local library, then partnership with a local school or youth organization will make a lot of sense.

¨Selling¨ the project to students, teachers, administrators and parents


If you are a teacher organizing the project for your school, you may have to explain the merits of a GrandPals project to your administrators or parent community. Likewise, if you are a community library, you will likely have to explain the merits of the project to any local teachers you may be partnering with.

When ¨selling¨ the project, a number of different things can be emphasized. First, because GrandPals is project-based and involves service learning, student engagement is often greatly increased. Students sense a greater purpose in their learning, and therefore are much more dedicated to the work.

In terms of keeping students engaged, the biggest trick is that there is no trick. It’s a real world project and they will be engaged throughout the project.Paola Argentino - Principal

The project is also rich in curriculum integration. Depending on what you choose to undertake, the project can include reading, writing, media literacy and the development of oral and visual communication skills. The project can likewise develop the learning skills of students, as it engages them in cooperation, independent work, initiative, and organizational skills. Finally, the project also has a Character Education component, as it develops the kindness and empathy of students.

I thought this kind of project was a great idea. I could incorporate this into my daily lessons, so I went with it. I could see how our school curriculum includes different styles of writing and inquiry based learning and I could also see how the GrandPals program worked really well with that. Donna Calanchie – Teacher Librarian

Other Possible Connections


Finally, there are a myriad of other connections that you can make as you are looking at developing a GrandPals project in your own community. A list of possible partners include:

  • Your local Age Friendly Council
  • Your local service club (e.g. Rotary Club, Lions Club, Optimists Club etc.). These service clubs often have many seniors in their membership. They might also be willing to support a project financially.
  • The Alzheimer’s Society – this organization might be able to provide valuable teaching and input on the development and implementation of your project.