Teens bond with seniors in Better Together Program

by | Mar 2, 2018 | Other News

Though Leia Morrissey is in eighth grade, she knows she can make friends with anyone at any age.

It’s a skill she picked up by participating in Better Together, a program that brings teens from area synagogues together with seniors at Beth Sholom Village.

Now in its second year, the program has grown to include not just teens from Ohef Sholom Temple, but also participants from Temple Israel and Temple Beth El.

Once each month, the teens travel to the senior home for Sunday lunch and discussions. Ten seniors regularly welcome the teens, greeting with hugs and handshakes, a sign that they have gotten comfortable with each over the past months.

Leia shared her experience in February during a Friday night Shabbat at Ohef Sholom Temple where the service honored elders.

“People would see these two groups as very distant from each other, but this program changes that assumption,” Leia said. “Just because people are older or younger doesn’t mean that they can’t share in each others’ company. We bond with the seniors and make lasting connections with them.”

She’s not the only one who’s learning from her Sundays at Beth Sholom Village.

“Better Together has widened my perspective on the world and given me the opportunity to collaborate with someone I now call a friend,” says Lizzy Goldstein, another middle school student. “It doesn’t even feel like community service, but rather sitting down for lunch, getting to know someone.”

Lizzy has formed a strong bond with Joe Horowitz, celebrating his 98th birthday with him, even though his birthday was not on a Better Together day. Knowing that he collects stamps, Lizzy took one of their photos together and had custom stamps made.

Parents of the teens agree that the chance to bond with these seniors has been a valuable experience.

“I believe the program has provided an opportunity for teens and seniors to connect,” says Bethany Prince, whose children, Nathan and Elianna, are new to the program this year. “They recently lost their grandfather whom they visited several times a week. Having the opportunity to connect with a senior at Beth Sholom has helped them to heal, while giving back to the community.”

Naomei Lidman, another teen in the program, says, “Better Together is a great experience allowing me to connect with people who have many stories and words of wisdom to share. My senior is Norma—she is very sweet and reminds me of my grandmother who passed away in 2012. Norma and I connected instantly and after two hours of talking, she said ‘I love you’ as I walked her to her room.”

The teens will have an opportunity to document their experiences when they compete in a local essay contest that will net the winner up to $8,000 for either a summer at Jewish camp, a semester in Israel, or other Jewish experience allowed by the grant. The winner will then have the chance to compete nationally for an even larger prize.

The essays will also be shared at the end of the year banquet on April 29 at Beth Sholom Village.

The program’s third year begins in September 2018. Any interested Jewish teens who want to earn community service hours, form lifelong friendships, and learn more about their Jewish identity, should contact program coordinator Leslie Shroyer at lmshroyer@cox.net.

– Leslie Shroyer and Robyn Weiner