Facebook Pixel Code Midland College and Manor Park bring children and elderly together through innovative program

Midland College and Manor Park bring children and elderly together through innovative programSeptember 09, 2019

The image to use for this article. Listing image managed through RSS tab. Children and residents interact at Manor Park

It is a regular day at Midland College (MC) Children’s Center at Manor Park. Assistant Director Tracy Roome is walking down the hall with the children and reminding them to be quiet and stay in a line.

All of a sudden a resident of Manor Park, a local continuing care retirement community, comes up behind her and scolds Roome saying, “You need to stop getting onto the kids! They are like a little garden. They are the jewels. You just leave them alone!”

“We call the residents Grandpals, and they are very protective of the children at our center,” said Roome. “I thought the elderly residents would want the children to quietly and obediently walk in a line, but that is not what they want the kids to do here. The residents want to be able to stop, talk, visit and interact with the children.”

MC Children’s Center at Manor Park provides unique childcare. It is an intergenerational program, which means it brings together different generations in ongoing, mutually beneficial activities. It is located in the hub of Manor Park’s activity center. Residents are encouraged to visit the children’s classroom and outdoor play area.

“It is a really positive experience to have the Grandpals visit,” explained Roome. “The children love them. I would venture to say the students listen more closely to the Grandpals than they do to me, so it is really powerful when they read to the children or work with them on puzzles, math or vocabulary. One Grandpal, Miss Ann, comes in once a week and stays for almost two hours. She was recently on vacation, and the children couldn’t wait for her to come back. They were asking for her by name!”

A typical day for the children begins by reading books, building with blocks, creating art and playing educational computers games. They eat breakfast, participate in teacher-directed activities and play outside.  Then it is time for lunch and a nap. Twice a week the children have breakfast with the Grandpals, and once a month the children have a picnic with the Grandpals. But most importantly, during the course of the day there are many opportunities to spontaneously interact with the residents of Manor Park.

“It is not so much about planning specific activities with the Grandpals as it is just being with them,” said Roome. “Intergenerational relationships are about the little moments. It is not something I can create or teach. It is hard to describe if you have not witnessed it yourself. It is a private moment, and it is amazing that it happens here on a daily basis.”

Research shows many benefits for children in intergenerational programs. One scholarly article suggests that these children will be more socially and personally mature than their peers. Roome says she sees her children learn compassion and acceptance firsthand.

“One day the children were in the long-term care unit, and a crying resident dropped her lap blanket,” Roome said. “A little girl just stopped, looked at her, picked up that blanket and spread it back on the resident’s lap. That resident stopped crying, her eyes lit up and she said thank you to that little girl. There seems to be a connection between people who are close to the end of life and children who are just beginning life.”

Roome said that when one of the residents passes away, she and the teachers work closely together to explain it to the children.  

“There was a woman who came to visit every day; her name was Miss Ethel,” recalled Roome. “When she died, I sat the children down and talked to them about it in a three-year-old way. The children do not really understand death yet, but just explaining it in a way I thought they could handle helped them become accustomed to the idea that Miss Ethel would not be coming back.”

Roome is the perfect person for the job at the MC Children’s Center at Manor Park. Her mother opened a childcare center in Fort Stockton when Roome was 16, so she worked there after school. She and her mother attended night classes at Odessa College traveling back and forth for seven years until they graduated with an associate degree in Child and Family Studies.

Roome moved to Midland when she got married.  She has been working at the MC Children’s Center at Manor Park since it opened in 2000. Since she knew she would have to work with children who might experience a loss, she volunteered with Rays of Hope for 10 years.

“I knew how to care for children from my studies and previous experience, but I knew that this intergenerational program was going to bring with it new challenges,” said Roome.  “I didn’t have those specialized counselor skills, so I turned to Rays of Hope. It really is an amazing program and organization. I learned a lot about helping children deal with grief, and I am able to be mindful of that training everyday.

“You have to have a passion for childcare. You have to be committed to your families, your children and your coworkers, and at Manor Park, you need to be committed to the residents. I enjoy being of service to others in this position.”

Roome credits Manor Park for always trying to improve the quality of life for their residents, and she is honored that MC’s childcare program is a part of that.

“Including the children with residents is always at the top of Manor Park activity directors’ to-do lists,” explained Roome. “They really understand that elderly adults and young children have a lot in common. Though there may be many years’ age difference, they each experience changes in development, need for companionship and a desire to be understood. If they can fulfill those needs together it is truly a win-win.”

Children must be 2 ½ years or older to enroll in the MC Children’s Center at Manor Park. All of the 18 available spots are currently filled; however, Roome does maintain a waitlist. 

For more information about the MC Children’s Center at Manor Park visit midland.edu/childcare 

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