JHF’S intergenerational reading program launches in Hazelwood

Children and volunteers participate in the new GRAN program.

Amid laughter and high spirits, JHF's intergenerational reading program GRAN kicked off at two after-school programs in Hazelwood last month.

Created with help of a $100,000 grant from the Heinz Endowments, GRAN matches volunteers ages 50 and older with children in kindergarten through fourth grade. The program provides opportunities for older adults and children to connect and foster relationships while learning valuable lessons and a love of reading. The curriculum is based on the Heartwood Ethics Curriculum, originally developed by the Heartwoods Institute in Pittsburgh in 2003 by three elementary school teachers and one criminal attorney.

Each month the students and volunteers pair up and read a beautifully illustrated children's book on a new value: love, respect, honesty, justice, courage, loyalty, or hope. The students are given the books to keep and take home, as well as activity packets to share with their families, keeping the conversations going.

The GRAN reading program provides a way for community members to make connections across generations, inspiring the sharing of knowledge, lessons of inclusivity and acceptance. GRAN is open to volunteers (grandparents or not) ages 50 and older who obtain state clearance requirements. All monthly sessions occur at the K-8 Propel Hazelwood school and at the Center of Life, whose Fusion program offers educational enrichment and recreational activities to children in the community. 

Children and volunteers participate in the new GRAN program.

The October 17 and October 24 gatherings seemed to delight organizers and participants alike.

"I loved using children's literature to reinforce a meaningful value," said volunteer Susan Bails. "The kids I worked with were great listeners, enthusiastic readers, and full of insight about the main character's journey discovering love."

Amy Burrows, assistant director of Hazelwood Propel's afterschool programs, called GRAN a wonderful addition. "We loved seeing the students so engaged and excited about the story that the volunteers were reading with them," Burrows said. "Even after the volunteers left, students continued to read the books given to them. One even asked, 'Are they coming back tomorrow?' "

The program links children to adults that will read and do creative activities with children.

This month JHF launches an additional aspect of the program for children not enrolled at Propel or Center of Life. The GRAN At-Home Reading Program will put the books in the waiting rooms of Kids Plus Pediatrics, while the Squirrel Hill Food Pantry will provide packets to 20 families who regularly visit the pantry. The Greater Hazelwood Family Center will offer the program to 20 families, and family developmental specialists will work alongside participants who to read and complete the activity.

So far 48 students and 14 adults are participating in the program at the two centers. More volunteers are welcome, and may contact Kylea Covaleski or Anneliese Perry. More information about the program may be found at Facebook.com/GRANpgh.

In 2020, JHF will launch the second program under GRAN: The Grandparent Activist Network, which will train and activate seniors to become politically active and advance policies that can improve the ability for seniors to live well and safely in the community. 

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