In 1999, Township High School District 113 initiated Grand Times, a program that was designed to tap into a reservoir of energy, experience, and expertise in the district. The new program was designed to provide an opportunity for retired and older members of the community to share their time and talents with students and staff at Deerfield and Highland Park High Schools.
The idea for the program began with the successful involvement of senior citizens in a community-wide attempt to pass a referendum in the district in the late 1990s. With the backing of older residents, the much-needed initiative passed. District 113 Assistant Superintendent Susan Benjamin, saw the potential of continuing the involvement of this hard-working, enthusiastic group in an intergenerational program that would bring senior citizens into the schools to perform a variety of tasks. Shortly after the referendum passed, Bob Saltiel, a retired C.P.A., came to the district and said he wanted to volunteer in the high schools. Soon after, a number of other older adults indicated their desire to contribute, in a meaningful way, to the education of high school students. A steering committee was formed and the project was set in motion.
The first major Steering Committee task was to initiate a needs assessment survey to find out from the teachers at the two schools how they might envision using senior citizens to help serve students. The responses showed that there were many opportunities for volunteers, ranging from mentoring or tutoring to helping start an investment club for students. Next, the steering committee, now consisting of seven retirees and five members of the District 113 faculties, presented the program proposal to the District 113 Board of Education in December of 1999, and received the Board’s approval to implement the program in the schools.
Fortunately for Grand Times, two dedicated, energetic individuals volunteered to coordinate the project at each of the schools. Jerry Witkovsky, a retired executive director of Jewish Community Centers, helped to match volunteers with positions at Deerfield High School, while Louise Kenny, an occupational therapist who is very involved in community activities, helped to place the Highland Park volunteers. Working with Susan Benjamin, they developed procedures for recruiting, screening and placing older adults where they were most needed in the schools.
An article in the Chicago Tribune early in 2000 that briefly described the Grand Times Intergenerational Program brought in a flood of calls from individuals who wished to volunteer in the schools. Under the leadership of Witkovsky and Kenny, volunteers were interviewed, screened, and matched with an increasing number of teacher requests. Steering committee member Brad Bradford, a retired newspaper editor, along with students at Highland Park created a web site for Grand Times.
Several years into the program, Lynne Samuels was brought in to work as a coordinator with Jerry Witkowsky and eventually took over as director of Grand Times. Through the use of the internet, ongoing communications with the local press and various senior groups, and coordination with the high school administration and faculty, Grand Times has continued to grow. This growth has proved beneficial to the faculty, students and volunteers, at both Deerfield and Highland Park High Schools.
The Grand Times Steering Committee has implemented a program that not only benefits students, faculty and volunteers, but augments the sense of community within a school. Incorporating older adults as mentors and helpers demonstrates the value and wisdom of age and experience as individuals at various life stages work toward excellence together.