Marty and Chelsea Misener run church youth groups at either end of the Niagara Peninsula, and have seen the impact of youths on the elderly, and vice versa.
As Bethany Mennonite Church’s associate pastor since March 2009, Marty oversees the church’s young people’s group in Virgil, where they annually go carolling at Heritage Place, the local nursing home.
Corinna Visser, the facility’s therapeutic recreational supervisor, explains the event’s impact on the members of this 41-bed home, where the majority of people suffer from Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. “It’s wonderful. It’s an important part of their life here, the intergenerational interaction,” she says, adding, “Intergenerational programs are critical to support a sense of normalcy.”
“I hope that the kids get out of this experience a sense of bringing God’s presence to people that are unable to physically attend their local church,” Marty says. “They’re serving and being God’s loving presence. Residents would sing along and ask us to keep singing. Joy was evident on their faces. Through the simple act of singing a song, we brought joy and happiness to that place during the Christmas season, a time that can often be lonely for residents. Our carolling brings a special moment to their day. It will definitely be an event that we will do next year, as a way to connect with the broader community and be God’s presence at that time of the year.”
Bethany’s youths also have arranged several games nights at Pleasant Manor retirement home.
“They are great events for our youth to serve people that are isolated and often times quite lonely,” Marty says. “One elderly woman remarked how much this games night meant to her, and she continually repeated that throughout the night.”
The event also provides teaching moments. “When one of the seniors forgot how to play a certain game, I would use that moment to teach the youth about patience and understanding. Oftentimes it’s just as much a learning event as it is a fun event for the youths.”
Holly Goertz, a Grade 11 student and longtime member of the Bethany youth group, shares her feelings about events with residents at the nursing and retirement homes. “I loved going to the homes,” she says. “I actually had a lot of fun playing Scrabble or Monopoly with them and I think they had a great time, too. I learned a lot about them. They opened up to us and shared amazing stories about their past. I really look forward to going back and playing games again, because they don’t get to do it and it’s a nice change for them that makes them happy.”
Taylor Nesbitt, also in Grade 11, says, “I enjoy going to see them and being able to play games with them, and I think they enjoy it as well. Maybe they don’t have family members, or their relatives aren’t able to come visit them. I think that interacting with them benefits all of us in a good way. It’s just nice to see them happy and having a good time. I am looking forward to our next event with the elderly.”
That next event will be an intergenerational games night held at the church. Marty acknowledges the importance of establishing relationships with people in their community for his youth group members. “They get to know people that attend our church, but that they wouldn’t have an immediate familial connection with,” he says. “Several of our youth do not attend our church, and this event will allow people in our church to get to know these youth.”
He hopes that the youths can “build connections where wisdom and insight about their relationship with Christ can be passed on.” He also hopes that the event will bring about for the older generations a “deeper sense of community and connection with the younger generation of our church.”
Marty’s wife Chelsea, the youth group leader at Vineland United Mennonite Church since July 2008, arranged a large crokinole tournament for about 70 people. Her youths and the Bethany youths mixed with seniors to raise money for relief kits for Haiti. She says simply of the night, “It was great! Not only did it end up being a great fundraiser, it was a great inter-generational event.”
The Vineland group also has games nights at the nearby seniors residence. In addition, her team annually bakes and delivers cookies to these seniors just before Christmas.