The partnership between Wind Crest Retirement Community and Eldorado Elementary School in Highlands Ranch has been one that’s spanned the ages.
While the partnership itself has only been around for six years, each day, at least one of 22 Wind Crest residents can be seen volunteering their time at the school, helping out teachers, tutoring students or reading to children. The kids, in appreciation, host luncheons for the volunteers twice a year and also raise money through bake sales to help pay for the Wind Crest shuttle to bring over seniors who no longer drive.
For the past four school years, students have also participated in a living biography project in which the entire sixth-grade class visits Wind Crest to interview residents about where they were raised and what their lives have been like. Each of the students is assigned to two seniors as part of the project, and after the day is done, writes up reports about their elders and shares copies of what they wrote.
“They were very nice and courteous and smiled a lot,” Steve Walters, 90, said of a recent visit. “They had their questions all written down, and every time I answered one, they quickly wrote down what I said. I told them some of what I remembered from being a young man and suggested they consider going into the health-care field.”
Walters, a former hospital administrator from Texas, said he hopes his message sunk in with the kids, as there is a continuously growing need for nurses and doctors.
“It’s not a field that is going to fill up like other fields,” he said. “People are living a lot longer these days and there are a lot more folks who are old and beat up like me.”
As for the project, Walters said, it was nice to see the kids and it gives them a chance to talk to the seniors and see how they behave.
“You think it’s going to be boring at first because they are so much older and you don’t think you are going to have anything in common,” said Eldorado sixth-grader Rachel Erickson, whose grandmother also lives at Wind Crest. “But the stuff that they shared really had an effect on me. It’s amazing how much they could tell us.”
Rachel said she received advice on how to deal with loss as well as what an enriching experience college can be, and said the overall experience has helped make her relationship with her grandmother a stronger one.
“The seniors have such amazing life stories, and the students have a lot of love and respect for them. It’s really a joyful time,” said Rachel’s teacher, Camille McCullough, adding that the volunteer program is also an eye-opener for the kids.
“The kids are always so amazed at how interesting their lives are and how active they still are,” she said. “They start to see them as real people that can help them, and it really helps them grow.”