Intergenerational Reading Program Closes its First Chapter

GRAN participants enjoy a story during an in-person session, before the program went virtual earlier this year.

As the GRAN Intergenerational Reading Program wrapped in July, participants and partners celebrated the program's success with a virtual finale event. Since kicking off on October 17 of last year, the GRAN program trained and matched 19 GRAN volunteers with 50 pre-kindergarten and early elementary school children at two community after-school programs in Hazelwood – Hazelwood Propel and Center of Life – to engage in meaningful conversations around ethics, while sharing the pleasure of reading. At each session, children had the choice to read one of two books with their GRAN, discuss the book's values, and complete an activity that reinforced the lessons of the day. GRAN's curriculum is based on the Heartwood Ethics Curriculum, originally developed by the Heartwood Institute in Pittsburgh in 1991 by Eleanor Childs, a former criminal attorney, and three elementary school teachers. The GRAN program also supports GRANs, who are senior volunteers, in passing down wisdom to the next generation and connecting with others in their community. At completion, the program gifted 420 books to participating children, and engaged GRAN volunteers for a total of 108 volunteer hours.

The GRAN program, funded by the Heinz Endowments, was coordinated by Jewish Healthcare Foundation staff members Senior Quality Improvement Specialist Anneliese Perry, MS, NHA, Program Associate Kylea Covaleski, MPH, MSW, and Program Assistant Kyle Terrill, MSW. Senior Quality Improvement Specialist Stacie Bonenberger, MOT, OTR/L and Administrative Assistant Catherine Mutunga volunteered as GRANs and provided support.

To engage additional children and families in the GRAN program, the Jewish Healthcare Foundation partnered with The Greater Hazelwood Family Center, Kids Plus Pediatrics and the Squirrel Hill Food Pantry to provide 60 take-home GRAN packets monthly, featuring the same books and activities offered during in-person sessions. Children were encouraged to connect with a senior in their family or their neighborhood. The at-home portion of the program also had great success, as all those who completed the take-home survey said they would recommend GRAN to others. 

GRANs, partners, and JHF staff celebrate during the virtual finale.

Although only 5 out of 8 planned in-person sessions were completed when COVID-19 struck, the program quickly shifted to virtual GRAN sessions on the Virtual Senior Academy platform for 3 months and then transitioned to Facebook Live Reading Sessions.

As a result of volunteering, 85% of GRANs reported feeling more engaged in the community and believed they were making a difference in the lives of local children. GRAN Joan Ammons said, "The books and crafts introduced at each session elicited surprisingly insightful responses from the children, and I couldn't contain my enthusiasm to their remarks. I found the experience to be beyond my expectations. I thank all for allowing me to connect with such beautiful children."

Another GRAN, Denise Emmel, expressed her appreciation for the program: "Being part of the Gran Intergenerational Reading Program has been a wonderful experience not only for the children, but for the GRANs as well. Watching the enthusiasm these kids had to read the books and do their craft was so exciting. I think I enjoyed it more than the kids! Their enthusiasm was catchy! Reading is such an important part of life and I feel so lucky to have been part of this program. I hope that they continue this each year and give me the opportunity to volunteer again! A big thank you to the Jewish Healthcare Foundation for giving back to our communities!"

GRAN was supported by additional community organizations as part of the take-home portion of the program, including Greater Hazelwood Community Collaborative, Fishes and Loaves Cooperative Ministries- Hazelwood, the Hazelwood Branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, and the Jewish Community Center's Center for Loving Kindness. 

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