Multi-generation literacy program gives children Elder Buddies

Elder Buddies program, St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church, Greenville

Elder Buddies program, St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church, GreenvilleGREENVILLE — A community outreach effort launched last year at St. Anthony of Padua School was so successful that the teachers plan to expand it.

St. Anthony recently received an $11,900 grant from the Sisters of Charity Foundation to offer the Elder Buddies program in the K-5 class again this year, and to extend it to the first grade.

“The thought process was that if the program was successful in its initial year it would be expanded,” said Tara Mendes-Cabe, a K-5 teacher at the school who coordinated the program last year.

Mendes-Cabe said Elder Buddies matches school-age children with adults in an effort to bring the community together. The multi-generational program helps develop literacy skills for the children and builds relationships.

The buddies gather at the school twice in the fall and twice in the spring, Mendes-Cabe said.

During the summer, the children and their adult buddies are urged to write to each other to maintain their relationships, she said.

The adult buddies are selected through Catholic Charities, which has a similar adult-to-adult program in Greenville.

Anna Blaso was one of those adults selected last year. She said she has a “soft spot” for helping children learn to read.

“They just love to have someone take an interest in them,” Blaso said. She first learned about the program through a notice in the church bulletin at St. Anthony.

The children launched last year’s sessions by sending invitations to their buddies, asking them to visit their classroom, Mendes-Cabe said. Typically, refreshments are served at each meeting, with an itinerary, prayer and activities.

At the end of the sessions, each child read a review of the activities aloud, she said.

A highlight from last year came at Christmas, when one of the adult buddies brought a live tree to the class. Everyone then worked together to make ornaments for the tree.

“That was one example of the adults taking the program beyond the four sessions,” Mendes-Cabe said.

This year there will be 32 students participating, the teacher said. Due to space limitations at St. Anthony, the sessions may be split into two days, with kindergarten one day and first grade the next, she said.

Expanding the program into the first grade will allow many of the students who participated in K-5 to continue with their same adult buddies.

Mendes-Cabe said the school hopes to eventually take Elder Buddies into a wider area.

“We eventually want to branch out into retirement homes and other parts of the community,” she said.

That would please Blaso, who said she gets as much, if not more, out of Elder Buddies as the children.

“I enjoy seeing some elder folk, including me, have an excuse to act young again,” Blaso said.