Fifty years ago, when the land on which Heritage Hall and The Fountains at Canterbury Retirement Community was built and purchased, the new owner built a concrete walkway in hopes of encouraging intergenerational programs and activities between the two. After many years, that dream came to life when the Adopt a Grandparent Program (AGP) was founded by Marco Ren and Alina Wilson in 2015. Today the walkway not only allows easy access between the properties, but it has come to symbolize the special connection between the two institutions.
For years, Canterbury's Community Life Director, Becky Strong, sought to expand the relationship between the retirement community and Heritage Hall. Although Lower and Middle School students often performed choir concerts for the residents and Upper School students would occasionally volunteer at the facility, Becky wished for the more meaningful relationship that had been conceptualized of in the beginning. Amongst the kids that performed at Canterbury was Marco Ren and Alina Wilson. The two enjoyed their concerts with the residents, however, they always left wishing they could do more for them. This encouraged Marco to go over to Canterbury with friends to visit residents on a weekly basis and engage in various activities such as painting their nails, playing Scrabble, watching Jeopardy, and more. Sadly, it became obvious that some residents were lonely and rarely saw their families.
After some time, the Service Learning Director of Heritage Hall, Nicole Brown, heard about Marco’s visits and decided to meet with him to discuss some of her ideas. In their conversations, they discussed how many residents in retirement communities suffered from social isolation and saw their relatives seldom. To alleviate the issue, the Adopt a Grandparent Program was born. A program that would create a lasting relationship between high school students and the residents of nearby residential retirement communities. Through these relationships, students and residents will help bridge the generation gap and promote mutual learning and understanding, as well as ease loneliness and social isolation in the senior population. All of which would be accomplished by initiating weekly visits and events between students and residents of retirement communities. Nicole Brown suggested Marco work with someone that shared his passion for the community to help bring the program to life since it would be a huge undertaking. She suggested Alina Wilson, who both Nicole and Marco knew was very involved in the community and had visited Canterbury to perform for residents in the past. Shortly after, Marco and Alina met and got to work to lay out the foundation for the program. They met with Becky Strong to discuss the ideas and hopes for the program and inquired if any residents would be interested in joining. Becky was delighted to hear the news and went off to recruit residents immediately. In order to help kickstart the program, Marco and Alina used the list of residents and created fake “Facebook” profiles on paper of the residents so students could pick a grandparent to adopt. Unfortunately, things were slow at first and many students did not join the program, but eventually, after some hard work from Marco and Alina, students started to grow an interest in the program. The program would host various parties, bake sales, and events that engaged the community and it soon became wildly successful at their school.
Today, the program involves over 60 students and residents at Heritage Hall and has already spread to Deer Creek High School, with more schools in the local area to join soon. Additionally, Watermark Properties has expressed interest in initiating the program in all of its properties across the U.S. and is currently in talks with AGP. On top of expansion, the program has become so much more than just visits and parties. It has become a huge family full of love where students and residents have created bonds and relationships that will last a lifetime.