CHARLOTTE, N.C. (May 16, 2023) – Every May, the Administration for Community Living leads the nation’s observance of Older Americans Month (OAM) through many types of intergenerational programs ranging from mentoring and community service to service learning and workforce development. Charlotte is lucky to have a Life Plan retirement community that effectively celebrates Older Americans Month every month throughout the year – Southminster.
A focal point of Southminster’s continuing celebration of the talents and energy of Older Americans is its Reading Buddy program. “We have facilitated this intergenerational program since 2018 in an effort to connect generations and improve the well-being of our youngest and oldest participants,” said Tracy McGinnis, Vice President of Philanthropy & Strategic Initiatives at Southminster. “Our Reading Buddy program serves a dual purpose of encouraging intergenerational relationships and addressing community challenges regarding childhood literacy.” The afterschool program brings students from the Greater Enrichment Program (GEP) to Southminster’s South Charlotte campus where residents and staff volunteer to read with them one-on-one. Southminster provides snacks and beverages at the end of each session and residents love catching up with the kids each month.
“We are privileged to host 20-to-25 kindergarten and first-grade students who range from can’t yet read, to amazing proficiency. Because they usually return to the same tutor, warm bonds are established. Hopefully, we provide stability and encouraging adult role models for them, while, in return, they bring energy, excitement, and purpose into our lives,” said Southminster resident Dave Burns.
The ongoing GEP relationship aligns with Southminster’s charitable mission of connecting generations to build a stronger Charlotte-Mecklenburg. Over the past seven years Southminster has spearheaded several intergenerational community programs, such as intergenerational playgrounds and cycling programs, and will continue to expand programming in the community by working with national leaders on intergenerational community-building.
The fun between older and younger generations plays out in all kinds of ways. For example, on October 28, 2022, Southminster invited everyone at the GEP site to
the retirement community’s Halloween Trick or Treat Event. Residents, along with their families, plus community members and Southminster staff donated and volunteered to pass out candy at several scary booths around the decorated campus. The event ended with a magic performance in Embrace Health where healthcare residents also got a chance to pass out candy. There was a staff costume contest prior to the event, so the students got to interact with dressed-up team members around campus.
During the Christmas season, the Greater Enrichment students joined residents for a concert at Southminster put on by guitarist Quinton Gibson - The Southminster staff had a donation drive throughout the month to provide gifts that were wrapped by residents for the 55 students from the GEP site.
In March 2023, residents packed eggs for a Greater Enrichment Easter egg hunt, and then during the first week of April, GEP kids were invited to Southminster’s courtyard to hunt for more than 500 eggs and enjoy story time with one of the residents. Life Enrichment at Southminster also purchased puzzles, coloring books, candy, and games to stuff Easter baskets for all 55 students and residents volunteered to pack and wrap the baskets. The students took them home during the monthly Reading Buddy program.
This month, to celebrate the end of the school year and the afterschool program, Southminster will present Reading Buddy participants with completion certificates during a party with refreshments and live music. In addition to new summer kids, Southminster will invite the entire GEP site to its campus on July 25th during summer camp for a Fun Day with activities, such as a magician, a petting zoo, crafts, live music and lunch for all students and teachers. The Southminster Reading Buddy program will start again in September with more fun opportunities to interact and learn.
Studies show that 92 percent of Americans believe intergenerational activities can help reduce loneliness. Charitable gifts to Southminster’s Community Fund have become the ideal conduit for bringing older people together with younger people to share cultural enrichment experiences, stay engaged in the community, learn and have fun.
“We are extremely grateful for the Southminster partnership. Each year the program evolves and gets better,” said Bronica Glover, Executive Director of GEP. “Our students have experienced so many new and amazing things this year at Southminster. They love it here!” Noalis, who’s a first-grade student at Merry Oaks International Academy, seconded that emotion — “We love their big pretty building.”
“Working with the GEP students and teachers is one of my favorite aspects of overseeing programming at Southminster,” said Brie Uzzell, Manager of Life Enrichment Programs & Partnerships. “Watching our residents bond with the students and seeing how the students get so excited just to be on our campus is a joy to witness. Our residents have nothing but positive things to say, not only about the students, but also about the opportunity to be a mentor and a bonus grandparent.”
The 2023 theme of the Administration for Community Living’s Older American Month is Aging Unbound, which offers an opportunity to explore diverse aging experiences and discuss how communities can combat stereotypes. In Charlotte-Mecklenburg and far beyond, there’s no doubt we all benefit when older adults remain engaged, independent, and included.
GEP is a licensed after-school program, founded in 1975, in the basement of Reverend George Battle, Jr.’s Gethsemane African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church off Beatties Ford Road. The program has served more than 10,000 at-risk elementary-aged children by providing academic, cultural and social instruction in a safe and loving environment. All services, including transportation, are free to GEP participants. By providing support to the whole family, GEP helps children gain knowledge, confidence and character to achieve their personal best in school and in their community.