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 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 had built a relationship with our Social Planning Council, Community Development Halton and our Burlington Age Friendly Council. We also built relationships with our school board partners and so we had a meet-up with some teacher librarians and I pitched the idea to them and a couple of them 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: 1) First, as an organizer you can connect with seniors in a local retirement residence or long term care facility; 2) A second option is to connect with seniors in your local community at large; 3) Another possibility, through the use of videoconferencing technology, is to connect with seniors beyond your local community.

Connecting with Seniors in a Seniors Center or Retirement Home

I went into the Avalon [Retirement Residence], met with social coordinator, I said, ¨I have 16 students and we’re looking for 8 seniors. Do you have 8 that we can meet with weekly, with goal to create relationships? Through the interview process the students will create a lifebook for the seniors¨ and right away she jumped on it and was excited. That was how we got started.       Kristie Walraven – Grade 5-6 Teacher – Orangeville Ontario

The way we got connected: Cecilia [a local librarian] and Heather [a community development worker] contacted me out of the blue, to come and see if this [GrandPals program] would be a good opportunity for us. And actually it was perfect timing, because we were just looking at developing some new programs – some inter generational programming. It is something our company has been working with for a long time. We met at my facility to just talk about starting the “Grandpal Program”, just writing letters to the seniors. I mean it was a great program. As we were talking, I was already thinking of names in my head who could possibly work with the students.    
Anna Hardy – Program Manager – Long Term Care Facility – Burlington Ontario

Connecting with seniors in the local community

Personal connections
Aside from seniors retirement residences, organizers of a GrandPals project can also seek to reach out into their local community to connect with seniors. One option is to begin with seniors that you already have a personal connection with.

We did have some issues around getting seniors involved, but 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. So I think in that manner, it’s easy to sort of spread the interest, if you find one person, and then through their involvement in activities, find others … It probably would expand in that manner.     Lynda Brown – Grade 5 Teacher

Local community organizations
Another option is to connect with seniors programs taking place 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 to connecting to seniors, if they are not connected to a senior centre or an active living centre, would be through faith groups. That is where you are going to find a lot of older adults that you can really engage. And the way to best to communicate is through the minister or priest, whoever the faith leader is, because they will get the information out.     Heather Thompson – Community Development Halton

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 had a request from a person I met, a teacher in Huntsville, who was really interested in doing some inter-generational work. So just off the cuff – it was informal – I said maybe we could find some seniors, older adults in Georgetown, where I live. We could look at a French Connection Program where students could gain some skills and abilities in their French conversation. For the seniors it would be great because many of them are isolated and they could come together and provide their skills and mentorship to the kids in Huntsville. So that is what we did. I went back to Hillsview Active Living Centre and they right away said, ¨How were we going to do this?¨ We developed a program through Adobe Connect , which was what the School Board used in Huntsville. Every two weeks, we came together on a Wednesday and the kids would talk with the seniors. We would ask questions. They had great fun and 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 church, mosque, synagogue or other religious organization, connecting with a group of youth might be fairly straightforward. If you work for a local library, then partnership with a local school our youth organization will make a lot of sense.

¨Selling¨ the project to the community of students, 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.

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 have a Character Education component, as it develops the kindness and empathy of students.

The school board has a lot of workshops they offer and one of them was a partnership with the library, just to see what our local library can do with the schools. So I went to the workshop and we just started throwing around brainstorming ideas…One of the ideas was the “Grandpal Program”. I immediately jumped on board. I thought it was a great idea. I could incorporate this into my lessons and my daily class, as well as bring it into our school library, so I went with it. I could see how the Ontario curriculum includes different styles of writing and inquiry based learning (a really, really big part of our Ontario curriculum) and how the GrandPals program allowed for that.    Donna Calanchie – Grade 6 / Teacher Librarian

A real personal highlight for me was how proud my students felt of themselves the next day after [our] celebration. They recognized that their months of hard work, that their frustrations, all of the effort that they had to put into what they were doing, it was all worthwhile because of what they were able to create…Because of the level at which they were able to perform when they delivered their presentations. They felt as if they were much more grown up and capable. That’s a gift that is very difficult to give your students.     Paola Argentino – Principal

This program has been great for my daughter. The changes in my daughter have been related to how she interacts with people in society. She has much more appreciation for the seniors in our community. And she’s much more willing and wanting to help. Something as simple as opening a door for a senior in a public place, in a shop, just stopping and saying hello, offering to help – those are the types of changes I’ve seen in my daughter. It’s just been wonderful.   
Jeremy Curry – Parent

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.