- Associated Press - Monday, July 27, 2015

July 27—Jeanette Howcroft rested her chin on the table in the game room at the Bridge Assisted Living and Life Care Center of Greeley until her eyes were level with her red checkers on the board. She needed to concentrate.

Howcroft has lived in Greeley 60 years, and at one time, she said, she was supervisor of the local hospital. She’d played checkers since she was 9, when her mother died and she played the game as a way to bond with a grandfather who raised her. Thursday morning, however, brought her a challenge she hasn’t faced in many years: Dalton Campbell, 11, was trying to run her down.

“Haven’t they told you to respect your elders?” Howcroft asked Dalton, who tried unsuccessfully to suppress a grin.

Dalton was there that morning as a part of a summer camp leadership program by the ABC Bright School-Age Center in Greeley. As part of the camp — comprised of two, four-week sessions — the kids made weekly visits to the assisted living center for what amounted to playtime with the seniors who live there.

Some of them bopped a balloon over a makeshift volleyball net, and others played board games such as Scrabble, Trouble and, of course, checkers.

“They bring an infusion of energy into the building,” said Eileen Smith, recreation therapy director for the Bridge.

The Bridge attempts to liven things up by bringing in outside entertainers, but regular visits are rare, unless they’re from loyal family members. Some of the residents shied away from the 30-or-so loud and energetic middle-schoolers, but most of them looked forward to the visits, Smith said. This kind of close interaction with visitors, especially kids, is a rare treat.

The kids, however, got just as much out of the visits as the adults. Those visits, in fact, were their idea. When Steven Benson, director of the leadership program at ABC, polled the kids on what volunteering they’d like to do this summer, many of them mentioned visiting a place where seniors live.

Some were a little uneasy around the seniors at first. That’s a result of our fragmented society, said Mindy Rickard, executive director of the Bridge. Society rarely offers chances for seniors to interact closely with kids, especially those on the cusp of being teenagers. Yet most of the time, a little time was all it took to bridge the generation gap. After a while, they even learned to embrace it. Dalton, for instance, enjoyed playing checkers, but he loved hearing about how things were back in the day.

“They’ve got so many stories to tell you,” Dalton said.

Howcroft seemed to be glad to have an ear.

“He laughs at all my jokes,” Howcroft said.

Norma Basey had stayed in her room during past visits. But Thursday, after a bit of prodding, she agreed to come play with the kids. She hadn’t played Trouble, a classic board game released in the ‘60s, but she was having fun riding a streak of good luck against Zach Headley, 12, and Austin Eppel, 11. The two boys were having fun, too, even if Austin struggled with Basey dominating the game.

Basey laughed, Austin winced and before long, the game was over. Austin and Zach looked over at Basey, who looked a little exhausted at the fast-paced game. Did she want to play again?

“Well…,” Basey said.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Austin said.

— Staff writer Dan England is The Tribune’s Features Editor. His column runs on Tuesday. If you have an idea for a column, call (970) 392-4418 or e-mail [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @ DanEngland.

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(c)2015 the Greeley Tribune (Greeley, Colo.)

Visit the Greeley Tribune (Greeley, Colo.) at www.greeleytribune.com

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