Angelina Mejia has spent the past few weeks making new friends, and it’s not just with fellow sixth-graders. Instead, these are friends old enough to be grandparents.
Mejia, 11, is involved with a pilot program where Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy students like her and senior citizens from Riverdale Senior Services get together at the Riverdale Community Center to take part in arts and crafts projects, while getting to learn more about each other, and helping to break down the walls between the two generations.
“I just enjoy being here because I don’t really get to talk to seniors so much, except for grandparents,” Mejia said. “I don’t really interact with them that much, so this is really an opportunity to open up and be able to talk to people who aren’t related to me and who are older, so they have different stories that I love hearing.”
Robert Ackerson, 71, is one of the seniors spending time with RKA kids like Mejia.
“We get to know each other and learn about what they’re doing in their life and what we’ve done in our life,” Ackerson said. “We compare things and contrast things, and we have a good time learning about each other.”
The four-week pilot project involves a handful of kids and about a dozen senior citizens. It kicks off each week right after the students walk to the senior center, spending an hour together.
A pilot this past winter went well, and the program is expected to begin again in February, McNamee said.
The students all hail from the community center’s leadership program.
“Our lives aren’t so different after all, except for the major technology things,” Mejia said. “If that was the same, we’d basically have the same sort of growing up, because that is what really kept it different, and it was fascinating to me to see that.”
Another RKA sixth-grader, Jeremiah Clark, 11, said he learned from the seniors to enjoy his youth.
“I’m always wanting to grow up so I can do more things,” he said, adding now he’s happy to learn to appreciate his childhood more while he’s still young.
The meet-ups are more than just building generational bridges. It’s also about photography. Eileen McNamee and Walter Pofeldt, volunteers with the Bronx Photo Collective, are documenting the meetings and showing students how to handle a camera and how lighting enhances photos. Some of the pictures currently line a wall at Riverdale Senior Services’ Netherland Avenue home.
“I could not have asked for a better combination of seniors and teens,” said McNamee, a retired teacher who leads digital photography and robotics courses at the community center.
“They came here to lean and that makes me feel good for the future,” said Pofeldt, a retired maintenance supervisor and one-time freelance photographer for The Riverdale Press. “In spite of Trump, I’m hoping the world is a better place in the future, and these kids make you feel good about that.”
CORRECTION: Jillian Ortiz worked with Robert Ackerson during an art project involving Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy and Riverdale Community Center. A picture caption in our Dec. 14 issue identified a different person in the photo.