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Years Later, Junior Volunteers Continue to Nurture Intergenerational Program at Waveny

Years Later, Junior Volunteers Continue to Nurture Intergenerational Program at Waveny

Posted on June 23, 2016

Junior Volunteers Caroline Callahan, Camryn Schlim, Emma Chivily (top row), Cooper Colthup and Bernadette McNamara (bottom row) bring joy to Waveny LifeCare Network’s residents and Adult Day participants through their intergenerational shopkeeping program at The Village’s General Store. 

Six years ago, two friends, Caroline Callahan and Emma Chivily, set up shop in the General Store on “Main Street” at The Village at Waveny, Waveny LifeCare Network’s award-winning assisted living residence dedicated to memory care. Then both 10 years old, the girls took the lead in a unique intergenerational effort started in 2008 by the Bruno and Zehner families, designed to provide Waveny’s residents and Adult Day participants with the experience of shopping for small items and toiletries for themselves and their loved ones.

With a personal commitment to nurturing the success of the General Store program, Callahan and Chivily, now both 16, recruited some very important helping hands over the years since then by engaging additional support from the Schlim, Colthup and McNamara families. Fellow teen, Camryn Schlim, and fourth graders Cooper Colthup and Bernadette McNamara, have joined Callahan and Chivily in driving the success of the program, often described as a “Waveny resident favorite.”

“They smile and hold my hand,” said 10-year-old Colthup. “It makes me feel good to know I'm brightening someone's day.”  Ten-year-old McNamara added, “I like seeing the smiles on their faces when they find what they want in the store. They’re really nice people and once you get them talking it’s fun to hear what they have to say.”

Designed to promote independence, fulfillment and above all, fun, no real money is exchanged at Waveny’s General Store, although the experience of shopping is the same. Waveny’s seniors select items of their choice and “purchase” them with the help of the friendly Junior Volunteer shopkeepers. Promoting a sense of autonomy, normalcy and independence through creative activities is a main goal of the therapeutic approach to care provided at The Village. 

“What I love most is talking to the residents and helping them pick out a couple special things to brighten their day,” said 17-year-old Schlim. “Nothing can compare to the times I’ve seen residents with tears of joy over finding something they really love.”

The junior volunteers say they’ve become close to many of the residents since beginning their volunteer service through the General Store program. “After all these years, I've come to know some of the regulars and look forward to seeing their smiles and getting hugs when they're happy with their shopping experience,” said Chivily.

The volunteers say they look forward to seeing their regular customers who always come to seek out their favorite items. “One resident is always looking for a good book to read, another for her favorite type of hair clip, and we can always count on certain residents to go straight for the soft, cuddly stuffed animals,” said Callahan. “The best part is seeing them so happy about finding that one perfect thing, whether it’s a necklace, their favorite shade of lipstick or a stuffed animal to hold onto. It’s fun to go shopping for our Waveny friends and to select items that we know they’ll love, as well as hunting down their specially requested items.”

Keeping the General Store well-stocked is admittedly a challenge for the group, as they generously bring in all the items themselves. They welcome and encourage community donations to help meet the Waveny residents’ diverse preferences. “We hope community members will consider donating non-breakable items like slip-on costume jewelry, toiletries, toothbrushes, hairbrushes, nail polish and lipstick to our cause,” said Charlene Callahan, mother of Caroline. “Recently, we’ve seen more men coming into the store to shop, so with that in mind, we’re also seeking out items like handkerchiefs, fountain pens, model cars and sports related magazines.”

The group says that they would love for even more kids and teens to become involved in the program. “It’s a lot of fun, and a great way to give back and make a difference,” said Chivily. “If more people and families got involved, we could probably open the General Store more often,” added Callahan.

To donate items to the cause, or for more information about the General Store volunteer program or volunteer opportunities in general, contact Deb Perron, Waveny’s Director of Volunteers, at 203.594.5334 or [email protected].

Waveny LifeCare Network provides a comprehensive continuum of healthcare to serve the changing needs of older adults from all areas. Waveny is a non-profit organization that offers independent living at The Inn, assisted living and respite care for people with memory impairment at The Village, and skilled nursing, inpatient and outpatient Rehabilitation Services at Waveny Care Center. It also includes the Brown Geriatric Evaluation Clinic, an Adult Day Program that provides free door-to-door transportation throughout most of lower Fairfield County, and an array of community-based services through Waveny Home Healthcare, Waveny at Home and Geriatric Care Management. For more information, call 1-855-WAVENY-1 or visit www.waveny.org.