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Preschool Plus Pohai Nani = Personal Pals

Rev. Samuel Cox and Carolyn Anderson, residents of Pohai Nani Retirement Community and newly minted 'foster grandparents,' share a somewhat intense story hour with eager little readers at Seagull School in Kailua. Photo from Seagull Schools.

Rev. Samuel Cox and Carolyn Anderson, residents of Pohai Nani Retirement Community and newly minted ‘foster grandparents,’ share a somewhat intense story hour with eager little readers at Seagull School in Kailua. Photo from Seagull Schools.

The story began with an Easter egg hunt, and its latest chapter involves a busload of kupuna going back to preschool.

A Foster Grandparent Program linking Pohai Nani residents in Kaneohe with Seagull Schools keiki in Kailua officially launched July 22. The idea, according to Chaplain Ruth Peterson, germinated with the formation of a Community Aloha Committee, a service group within the retirement facility focused on giving back beyond its walls.

After passing out goodie bags to various charitable groups last year, the committee turned to the younger generation. That’s where Seagull Schools came in, according to school director Chuck Larson.

“It’s kind of been our nature to have intergenerational programs,” Larson said. “We have it at each one of our schools.” Rev. Samuel Cox, a Pohai Nani resident, has been a frequent guest at the school over the years, and some of his conversations with Larson led to 40 Seagull School pupils trooping onto Pohai Nani’s lush campus in April to plant flower seeds, sing songs, read books and go on an egg hunt.

“The kids thought that was one of the best excursions they ever went on,” he recalled. (Students will be back in September for treasure hunts, facepainting and balloon animals.)

But the seniors still wanted to do more. Realizing they could take advantage of Pohai Nani’s in-house shuttle service to accommodate less mobile residents, a group of eight now make a twice-weekly trip to the preschool, in order to work directly with the young ones.

Her group is ready to do “whatever the teacher needs help with,” said Peterson, whether it’s reading books, supervising the playground or just “being a warm, welcoming presence that the kids can come and hang out with.”

Things are off to a smooth start, according to Larson. On their first day, the elders were a comforting presence to a new crop of students, many of whom were nervous about starting school. And it’s those moments that make the partnership so invaluable.

“Oftentimes, children, especially with families so mobile nowadays — they don’t have any older adults in their lives. Kupuna become the grandparent figure for the child,” Larson said, noting that interacting with children helps seniors too.

“This gives them a chance, both sides, to connect with a different generation. Our residents who live here, they have decades of experience and a real desire to make a difference,” Peterson said.

Benefits aside, she noted, the project is appropriate, as a way to highlight Pohai Nani’s 50th year. The retirees will mark the occasion with a luau Sept. 13. For more information, call 247-3448.

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