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Local High Schoolers Form Friendships at the Older Adult Center

By Anna Gardner

A teen volunteer plays pool with a member of the Henry Street Settlement Older Adult Center

Older Adult Center member Larry Hamilton gives volunteer Olivia Yim pointers during a billiards game. 

It’s a chilly Sunday in February, but inside the Henry Street Settlement Older Adult Center Olivia Yim and Larry Hamilton are playing a spirited game of pool. “That’s a tough shot; let’s see what you’re gonna do with it!” teases Larry as he coaches Olivia.

Larry, 82, is a Vladeck Houses resident of 50 years who has been coming to the center for about 17 years. Olivia is a junior in high school at the Nightingale-Bamford School. The two have formed a friendship during through the volunteering initiative Books, Board Games, and Bonding, a project of the Amity Program.

“A lot of the older adults are far from family or live alone. Having young folks around reminds them of their grandchildren and makes them feel younger.” – Deanna Sorge, Henry Street Settlement volunteer coordinator

Founded in 2020, the Amity Program was begun by Hattie Shapard, then a freshman at the Brearley School, to connect young people with older adults during the isolation of the pandemic. Phone calls, pen pal letters, and an art supplies exchange were among the contactless ways in which about 200 high school volunteers provided companionship to older adults.

As COVID restrictions eased, Hattie and her team of student leaders looked for a way to expand their reach. Each student came up with an activity idea, which combined to create Books, Board Games, and Bonding. Already a partner in the remote volunteering program, the Older Adult Center welcomed the students to join in its Sunday activities.

An Amity Program volunteer playing chessWhen the project started in November 2022, Olivia says that engaging with the center’s members was a little awkward. But they soon “found a rhythm of who liked to engage in the activities versus who just liked to watch.” Volunteers take card games and chess from the back rec room along in addition to using the center’s well-loved pool tables. Larry is a regular at pool who likes being able to pass on his skills and knowledge of the game. “I enjoy teaching, doesn’t matter what age.”

Olivia’s interest in volunteering with older adults started when she and her younger sister volunteered at an Upper East Side center for older adults with dementia. She heard about the Amity Program through an email from her school sharing volunteering opportunities and was eager to work with an intergenerational program again. Three months into volunteering, she’s made connections with many members at the center and feels she’s now a member of their community.

Deanna Sorge, Henry Street’s volunteer coordinator, says the weekly time commitment by the students and the intergenerational exchange make the program unique. “A lot of the older adults are far from family or live alone. Having young folks around reminds them of their grandchildren and makes them feel younger,” she says. Jasmine Corchado, director of the Older Adult Center, says the Sunday visits have made an impact during the rest of the week. “Members have been asking for board games like chess and checkers throughout the week. For our younger seniors, it reminds them of the family game nights they grew up with.”

Hattie volunteers with her peers most Sundays and loves the time spent outside of her usual social circles. “The Older Adult Center is full of life. You can just feel that there’s a deep sense of community.” For those interested in making an ongoing volunteer commitment, Hattie recommends finding something you’re passionate about and reaching out. “A lot of value can be found in asking if an organization needs volunteers and focusing on things you’re interested in.”

Interested in volunteering for Henry Street? Click here to learn about our current opportunities.

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