Kids foster friendships with Setauket seniors

Kids foster friendships with Setauket seniors

Setauket Elementary students Julian McGrath, left, and Conor Matthews share a moment and a smile with their Jefferson’s Ferry friend, resident Betty Bangert. Photo from Kathleen Caputi

Spirits were high when 25 fifth-grade students from Adrienne D’Onofrio’s Setauket Elementary school class recently enjoyed a farewell lunch at Jefferson’s Ferry Lifecare Retirement Community.

Over the course of the school year, the students have partnered with Jefferson’s Ferry’s Assisted Living and Skilled Nursing residents, enjoying companionship, crafting, cooking, learning and fun.

Well-loved by students and residents alike, the Intergenerational Program was conceived 10 years ago by Setauket Elementary teacher Ellen Young, who is now retired but is still active in the program, with Jefferson Ferry Director of Therapeutic Recreation Jennifer Barrett.

Generally, a dozen or so residents engage with the children in small groups during monthly visits.

“You can’t even imagine how much the children look forward to seeing the residents at our visits,” D’Onofrio said. “It has really made an impact on both the students and the residents. Together they’ve written poems, played games, built candy houses, and cooked up a Thanksgiving feast. It’s been a great year.”

The farewell luncheon is always an emotional and memorable event, with barely a dry eye among the adults in attendance. The children get all dressed up, parents are invited, and a lunch is served in the rotunda at Jefferson’s Ferry’s main building. This year, on May 21, the children read aloud letters to the residents and performed Randy Newman’s song, “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.”

“The students and the residents become very close over the course of the year,” said Barrett. “We attended the school’s talent show and the kids ended up cheering for us. It made our residents feel loved and very special. We’ve also had numerous students return over the years, either to visit their friends or give community service. It’s very gratifying and a win-win for everyone.”

Student Harry Rosenzweig wrote a note to resident Jim Ardolino.

“I want to thank you so much for playing spoons with me that Thursday we came in April. You made me realize that my hair is way too long and that I can’t see with [it] in my eyes! I got it cut that weekend and I saw the world in a new way! The stories you told about how athletic your childhood was were so awesome and interesting. Thank you for being the coolest resident ever.”

Another student, Julianna Lorber, said that, “I’ve had such an amazing experience coming to see all of the residents. … Thank you for always making me leave with a smile on my face.”

Mary Bafundi, a 95-year-old Jefferson’s Ferry resident, has participated in the Intergenerational Program since she moved into Assisted Living more than five years ago. Today Mary lives in Skilled Nursing, but pilots her electric power chair to keep up with her young friends.

She’s helped plant flowers with the children, baked with them, attended their talent shows and told them her stories. As the oldest of 13 children, Mary spent most of her life first tending to her siblings and then her own children.

Joining Mary in the program are residents Giselle McGann, Dorothy Catania, Jim Ardolino, David Wooster, Nina Sloan, Betty Bangert and Lisa Goldschmidt. In addition to Henry and Julianna, D’Onofrio’s students are: Ashley Bunici, Hazel Cash, Jean Chung, Faith Curth, Melaina Gargano, Toni Amber Hemmerick, Kaitlyn Hernandez, Kristopher Furnari, Maia Le Lay, David Liang, Giani Mascolo, Conor Matthews, Julian McGrath, Mark O’Brien, Samuel Ribeiro-DiCanio, Lindsay Rodgers, Ben Sheline, Sohum Singh, Hannah Toirac, Melissa Vivenzio and Dylan Zummo.

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