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Children share time, conversation with 'grandpals'

Sunday school students from Osceola (Neb.) First United Methodist Church take their "grandpals" for a walk around the Good Samaritan Center. UMNS photos by Tim Griffis.

A UMNS Report
By Lilla Marigza*
May 10, 2007


Bimonthly Monday visits sometimes include a friendly game of cards.

Under a small outdoor gazebo in Osceola, Neb., about a dozen friends talk about planting a garden together. Despite age differences spanning more than half a century, the friends find they have plenty of interests in common.

On Mondays twice a month, fourth- and fifth-graders from Osceola United Methodist Church visit residents of the Good Samaritan Center, a nearby assisted living facility.

Their "grandpals ministry" is the idea of Osceola Sunday school teacher Jane Roberts.

"Teaching Sunday school is more than going through the take-home paper on Sunday morning; it’s what we can do above and beyond," Roberts says.

"We talk in Sunday school about what it is to be United Methodist. We promise not just to the church but to Jesus to give our prayers, our presence, our time and talents. These kids have more time than anything right now."

The "grandpals" play bingo or cards around a big table. They do simple projects together. And when the weather is nice, the youngsters take their elder friends on wheelchair walks outdoors. For some of the assisted living residents, getting some fresh air is a rare treat – as is sharing the companionship of children.

Sally Gissler looks forward to seeing the smiling faces and boundless energy of her pre-teen visitors. "I think they’re great," she says. "They do a great job visiting and taking us for rides. It’s really a joy to have the activity with the young kids."

Now in its fifth year, the ministry was designed as a one-year commitment for the children during their fourth- and fifth-grade school years. But each year, some ask to continue.


Sunday school teacher Jane Roberts offers a snack in her home before the children visit their grandpals.

Sixth-grader Lindsay Urban, for example, outgrew Roberts' Sunday school class but, after missing her grandpals, signed on again. "It's just nice having people you know and who recognize you," says Lindsay.

The children benefit in other ways as well, learning life lessons and a little history from the people who actually lived it, including one retired school teacher who is a favorite grandpal.

"He was always prepared for the kids," says Roberts. "He had maps for them to write the state capitals on. He was a veteran of World War II and he shared a flag that he brought home from his time serving in the Army. Now they are learning about farming from a man they are visiting now."

Grandpals has inspired Roberts’ young students to find even more ways to serve others. "Right now, we are collecting items for health kits for UMCOR," Roberts says of the United Methodist Committee on Relief. "Last year we did the flood buckets. Now we are collecting items for health kits and school kits."

While many children today find themselves interacting primarily with television, video game and computer screens, Roberts hopes these children benefit from conversation with their elders – and recognize how much that the simple gift of time and friendship means to their grandpals.

"These children are growing up in a very materialistic society where so many things are all about me," says Roberts. "So I’m trying to teach them about giving back and that the rewards are forever."

*Marigza is a free-lance producer in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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