Fran Farer is 90 and has lived all over the world. Marley Belanger is 17 and a junior at Dedham High School. They might never have met, but for the Adam and Matan Adelson Multigenerational Program, where young and old come together for chats and visits across Hebrew SeniorLife‘s six senior living communities throughout Greater Boston.

Just before Passover, Hebrew SeniorLife will receive the 2017 Jewish Programming Award from the Association of Jewish Aging Services for this work. School groups visit from throughout the Boston area, ranging from preschoolers to students from the Rashi School, Gann Academy, Noble and Greenough and more, totaling about 1,000 students every year.

They provide companionship and a sense of fun, says Farer.

“I love it,” she says. “I’m in long-term care at NewBridge on the Charles, and unfortunately there are a mixture of people who have dementia and Alzheimer’s. This gives me someone to talk to. The teenagers love to hear about my life!”


She entertains them with stories about her travels with her husband to Los Angeles and across Canada; recalls her days as a handwriting analyst (she can still do it) and encourages them to work hard in school so they can be like her granddaughter, who’s training to be a pediatric neuropsychologist. The teenagers, in turn, help her to use a brand-new tablet.

“If I ever run into a little bit of depression, I look forward with so much pleasure to our visits on Thursday afternoons,” Farer says.

Marley Belanger is one such student volunteer. The 17-year-old is a waitress at NewBridge and launched a volunteer program through her guidance counselor at Dedham High School. Now, she and her classmates visit once per week.

“This is such a great experience,” she says. “I come in from a tough day or a test, and it’s so good to see Fran and ask about her day. With intergenerational programming, it’s beneficial to both of us. You get wisdom from different perspectives. I met a woman who actually had a Holocaust tattoo. She was a survivor, and this was my first real experience with that,” Belanger recalls.

And, over time, the elderly residents open up about their past.

“I spoke to one man who knew French and was once stationed in France. I’m really interested in French; I take it in school, and I could ask him what it was like to be there, firsthand,” Belanger says. “And they get a window into what young people are thinking.”

Of course, they can’t resist doling out some hard-won advice.

“I get a lot of love advice,” Belanger says with a laugh. “One woman got married early and went through a nasty divorce. She told me to take my time in relationships! It’s really earnest.”

Kids and residents learn something from one another, says multigenerational program manager Lynda Bussgang.

“What I think is so amazing is how this program works magic on both sides of the equation,” she says. “For the seniors in our communities, the students provide an opportunity for them to share their life experiences, engage in discussion about the world and to celebrate holidays. Kids develop skills around how to engage with people who are older. In so many students and adults, there’s a fear of people who are older. The fear goes away so easily with engagement.”

But the effects linger.

“They come in, they hug me and they kiss me goodbye. I have become a friend to them, as they have become to me. It’s just wonderful,” Farer says.