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Adopt-A-Grandparent program participants forge special bonds

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SHIRLEY — As the start of a new school year nears, thoughts turn to programs of the last year that proved to be student favorites. Among them was the Adopt-a-Grandparent program.

“The grandparents are really funny,” said student Rachel Cormier at the Lura A. White Elementary School’s Adopt-a-Grandparent end-of-the-year celebration. “Some of the jokes (they told) were old, so we couldn’t understand them.”

“Maybe they’re ’80s jokes,” helpfully explained fellow student Shannon Mountford.

Rachel and Shannon are two of 13 students in grades three-through-five who had the privilege to work with elderly residents of Nashoba Park in Ayer this year through their school’s Adopt-A-Grandparent program.

Initiated four years ago by Susan Noll, school Extended Day director, the Adopt-A-Grandparent program begins in the fall with selected students visiting the retirement community and picking out those with whom they wish to work.

After the pairs get to know each other, they alternate visiting each other at school and Nashoba Park. At each visit, they work together on activities such as painting pumpkins, making gingerbread men, decorating Easter eggs, and creating decorative Thanksgiving door hangers. The children and “grandparents” also share a snack.

“I like the different activities for the different holidays,” said Meghan Harding. “It’s really fun. And for St. Patrick’s Day, everybody decorated with stickers.”

“I like the colored eggs and the gingerbread cookies,” added Gracie Soultanian.

“At the end of the year, we made a glass heart for our grandparents,” said Kaylin Patterson-Soar.

Although the grandparents also enjoy the crafts, their favorite part of the program is getting to know their young counterparts.

“You get attached to some of them,” said Nashoba Park resident Paul Gribbon, who has participated in the program every year since it started.

“These two,” he said, pointing to Liam and Shannon Mountford, we’ve formed a special bond.”

At the end-of-the-year festivities in the school cafeteria, Noll presented a slideshow illustrating much of the fun the students and their elderly mentors experienced throughout the school year.

Students in grades three and four laughed and clapped as they viewed photographs of their friends hamming it up with their senior counterparts. Then, each student participant, now wearing a special Adopt-A-Grandparent T-shirt, was awarded a certificate and a copy of the slide presentation to take home.

Noll also presented Nashoba Park Executive Director Stephanie Burton with a large set of wind chimes for the residents. “You know how I love these,” responded Burton, as she gave Noll a hug.

After the program, Nashoba Park residents and their partners were served punch and cake and given an opportunity to say their goodbyes for the school year.

When asked if Adopt-A-Grandparent, which is funded through the Extended Day program, would continue next year, Noll was unsure. Her mother, Ellen Tremont, a lifelong teacher and former director of Lura A. White’s Extended Day program, and former resident of Nashoba Park, is now deceased.

“It’ really hard for me now,” said Noll. “We’ll see.”

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