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Program pairing youth, seniors expands to Riley County

By Maura Wery

A program created in Geary County is expanding to give students in the Riley County area the chance to create relationships between elementary students and seniors.

The I.C.A.R.E. program started with executive director Vickie Bobbitt in 2009. Bobbitt said that she, along with three other Geary County residents, wanted to give youth in the area something to do and came up with the idea of building relationships between youth and older populations.

“Because it’s a military town with a lot of youth, we thought this would be something ideal for the military community,” Bobbitt said. “The kids of those families and their extended family members aren’t that connected, so intergenerational relationships could be beneficial.”

Bobbitt started coordinating visits at nursing homes in Geary County, and the idea of young people meeting with seniors worked — so much so, in fact, that Bobbitt wanted to expand the group into Riley County. 

Not long after, the organization received a $1,000 Youth Impacting Community grant from the Greater Manhattan Community Foundation. The grant allowed I.C.A.R.E. to start a pilot program in Riley County.

The first pilot group was a sixth-grade class from Woodrow Wilson Elementary. The students went to Via Christi Retirement Home in December to help decorate for Christmas with the residents.

Liz Nelson, activity coordinator at Via Christi, said that the I.C.A.R.E. program has made a big impact on their residences.

“The residents think the children are so amazing,” Nelson said. “They just say how smart the children are how nice and helpful they are. They like to talk to the kids and find out what they are doing, what they studying in school, what things they enjoy, and every time we’ve had kids in here, they are so darn sweet!”

Bobbitt said that the kids and seniors do a variety activities that allow everyone to be involved.

“The kids and adults will play Wii games,” Bobbitt said. “It was easy, not complicated. They have played checkers, chess, done crafts.”

For their next project, students in the pilot group will interview residents and then make a presentation to their classmates about their specific resident. This activity is intended to help build communication skills between the students and the residents.

The residents aren’t the only one who are getting something out of the program, either.

Woodrow Wilson principal Deb Nauerth said that the students “seem really excited about the program.”

Bobbitt also said she has seen a change in children as they interact with the seniors.

“I have seen some of the changes when the children come back to the school,” Bobbitt said. “I’ve heard the kids say they like helping the residents and it gives them a chance to empower them. The affirmation is what I like about it.”

Nauerth said that after the success of the Riley County pilot group, she hopes that the program will grow to include the other grades at Woodrow Wilson.

“I look forward to this being a great cooperative venture,” Nelson said. “And I know that our residents will just look forward to people coming back.”

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