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Queens Community House intergenerational program draws all ages

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When a group of 4- and 5-year-olds and seniors gathered together at the Queens Community House in Forest Hills over the past two months, the decades in age that separated them quickly melted into laughter and stories that broke down barriers between the two age groupst.

About 27 Queens residents participated in the Intergenerational Story Circle Program, a collaboration between Queens Community House’s Naturally Occurring Retirement Community and Early Childhood Center, which wrapped up last week.

“It was wonderful,” said Evelyn Gottlieb, director of NORC Forest Hills. “We were all on the same premises at Queens Community House, and they’d pass each other in the halls, but there had been no interaction before. It gave the children a sense of history and permitted the women to be a little nostalgic and reminisce and talk about their own childhood.”

The Queens Community House, which houses NORC and the Early Childhood Center, landed a grant from the Jeannette Solomon Cultural Arts Program, first brought to their attention by the United Jewish Appeal Federation of New York, that allowed them to create the intergenerational program.

Gottlieb said she hopes the program will become an annual occurrence.

NORC offers Forest Hills Cooperative residents health, recreational and other programs.

Participants spent their time together storytelling, singing, dancing and creating art projects during sessions facilitated by a teaching assistant from the nonprofit organization Elders Share the Arts.

“The experience of two generations sharing a universal truth that is the need for play and joy was extraordinary for me to share,” said Norma Vaross, a pre-kindergarten teacher involved in the program.” “Having a master storyteller leading the tales added a rare and magnificent flavor.”

Many of the older women, who came to be known to the children as “grandparen­ts,” said they were happy to get to know the younger children and shared stories with the children about childhoods in Egypt, Venezuela, Ecuador and the southern United States. The “grandmothers” often regaled the pre-kindergartners with memories of playing kick-the-can and cooling off in fire hydrants in Brooklyn or on the Lower East Side.

“I was able to share love with someone else’s child other than my own grandchild, by being a surrogate grandparent during the duration of the program,” says Ann Oniszko, a NORC participant.

Jakob Cwiekala, a student in the Early Childhood Center, said he especially enjoyed playing music with the older women and said the program inspired him to want to spend more time with other older individuals in his life.

“I want to play with my own grandma more,” Cwiekala said.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 5:50 pm, October 10, 2011
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