More than 140 seniors from three Chicago facilities spent hours playing Wii Tennis, horseshoes, bags and other games Nov. 11 at a Veterans Day carnival organized by eighth grade students from Kenilworth’s Joseph Sears School.
The students traveled from Kenilworth to Bethel New Life, a community resource center that houses 200 seniors in three locations in Chicago’s Garfield Park and Austin neighborhoods. The eighth graders handed out popcorn and cotton candy and staffed a craft table where seniors could make key chains from beads and pipe cleaners. They also manned a variety of games, teaching the seniors how to play and handing out tickets that could be turned in for soap, toilet paper and other useful prizes.
“When you’re living on a very limited income, like many of the seniors here are, these are things you need,” said Sara Spoonheim, Bethel New Life’s senior director of external relations.
This is the fourth year of Joseph Sears’ service learning program, which teaches students the value of community service before they enter high school. Joseph Sears parent Leslie Holling got the idea to do this year’s project at Chicago’s Bethel New Life after meeting Spoonheim on a mission trip to Haiti.
“I don’t think (the students) have a lot of opportunities to interact with seniors,” Holling said. “I’m hoping in the future they’ll feel more comfortable approaching a senior who needs help.”
Staff from Bethel New Life came to Joseph Sears a month before the carnival to talk to the students about their residents, who include civil rights leaders, veterans and Grammy-award winning musicians.
“We let them know that every day they’re learning social studies, but here they can meet people who’ve lived through history,” Spoonheim said.
Joseph Sears student Jen Fishman of Kenilworth said she enjoyed chatting with seniors during the carnival.
“It’s really interesting to hear their background,” she said. “You ask a question and they really go into their lives.”
Middle school students from Bethel New Life’s after school programs also attended the carnival, where they chatted with their peers from Kenilworth and shared some moves with them on the dance floor. Many of the Joseph Sears students said meeting other kids was the highlight of the trip.
“In Kenilworth you only see one kind of person, but when you go to other places you see more diverse groups,” said Kenilworth eight grader Reilly Knoer.
Spoonheim said this was a great day for the seniors who don’t have the opportunity to get out much.
“One of the seniors came out at the end and said ‘These games are for kids, not for seniors. You made us feel young,’” Spoonheim said.