Once a year during the “dreaded” OGT week, groggy freshmen and sophomores wake up early for testing, leaving the juniors and seniors to sleep in or — in many senior’s case — volunteer. The mastermind behind Seniors Helping Seniors, Student Activities Director Jenny Borchers, came up with the idea four years ago.
It all started when she got a letter in the mail from the Community Foundation for Kettering. “They were basically advertising a grant to any type of non-profit group,” said Borchers. “I thought up of Seniors Helping Seniors and wrote the grant, having no idea if we would get it. Once we got the grant, we moved forward and have gotten the grant every year since.”
Borchers describes the program as a “cross-generational service project with a goal for the entire senior class to come together one more time before graduation to work on something together.” This year was a record-breaking year with more than 250 seniors volunteering at various locations to chat with senior citizens, play games, do puzzles and make crafts including tote bags, photo frames and jewelry.
“It’s nice to see that so many people get excited about the event,” said Borchers. “I will encounter a hundred senior students who want to spend every single morning volunteering.”
This year’s locations included The Terraces, Oakcreek Terraces, the Lathrem Center at the Kettering Rec and Lincoln Park Manor. Two years ago, Borchers also started placing students at local elementary schools. “We just have so many students wanting to volunteer, that it’s overwhelming for the senior citizens,” she said. The elementary schools where students could volunteer this year were J.E. Prass, Indian Riffle, Southdale, Orchard Park and Oakview.
One of the many senior volunteers was Milin Pandya, who volunteered at the Terraces and Southdale throughout the week and got the opportunity to help first-graders with their reading and learned how to sew. “Just seeing how happy the elderly people were when we came made me realize the impact and importance of a younger generation in giving back to the older generations,” Pandya said.
Pandya even got a souvenir to remember the week by. “A lady at the Terraces put our names in a drawing for a chance to get her hand-woven tablecloth and placemats, and my name was one of the three that was picked,” he said. “I was really appreciative of her generosity and impressed by her work.”
Senior Katherine List also spent time volunteering throughout the week at the Lathrem Center and Oakview. “I liked the fact that I got an entire day to just do fun crafts,” she said. “I had tons of fun while helping the community.”
With any large scale annual event, details are constantly being modified to accommodate the week, and Seniors Helping Seniors is no exception. “We are always changing [the program] around a little bit,” said Borchers. For example, for this year’s event, two locations were changed. Borchers added Lincoln Park Manor as another location and she also contacted six local churches to see if there was a church senior citizen group where students could go to interact with the seniors.
Borchers said David’s Church was the only church that responded. “They have a group that meets once a week to make mittens and scarves for the homeless, so we had students that were able to volunteer there,” Borchers said.
However, on some occasions, it isn’t the location that changes but what the students do at the location. “In the past, the Lathrem Center at the Rec Center has been the students’ least favorite placement because they struggled to fit in.” She thinks that part of the reason may be because it was the only placement at the time where seniors weren’t living there.
As a solution, Borchers said that the director of the Lathrem Center suggested doing something for homebound senior citizens. “During the week, the students who went to the Lathrem Center weren’t interacting with senior citizens but making care packages instead. On the last day, they took a bus all around the city of Kettering and dropped them off to the homebound seniors,” said Borchers. “I thought it was really neat, I would continue to do it if we had the support from the Lathrem Center.”
As one might expect, lots of planning must happen if Seniors Helping Seniors week is to be successful. “It always falls that I have to write the grant the week after Spirit Chain, and as soon as we get back from winter break, Seniors Helping Seniors is usually on my daily agenda,” said Borchers.
“It’s difficult because it has to happen slowly,” Borchers continued. “I have to talk to the facilities and the facilities have to check their calendars, and I have to get all of the activities and locations in place before I can get the students placed at locations. Basically, within a two-week period I have to put together all of the student placements, get the T-shirts ordered, and figure out the supplies needed.”
Despite all of the work and planning involved, Borchers says it paid off in the end. During the week a woman from one of the senior centers told Borchers that the Seniors Helping Seniors program was the reason she got up every day that week.
“That is what it’s all about,” Borchers said. “We want to make their day a little bit better.”