Ashkelon youth adopt city seniors

Students from the Henry Ronson ORT high school, who signed up for the Adopt A Senior program, say they are receiving more than they are giving.

girl cooks 88 224 (photo credit: Jerusalem Post Archives)
girl cooks 88 224
(photo credit: Jerusalem Post Archives)
'Adopt A Senior" is the name of a citywide project that pairs tenth-grade pupils from Ashkelon's Henry Ronson ORT School with local senior citizens. Several months ago, as the possibility of a missile attack on the city of Ashkelon became more of a reality, Mayor Roni Mehatzri came up with the idea of pairing local high-school kids with the 20,000 senior citizens living in the city. And so, Adopt A Senior was born. But what started as a plan to ease conditions of the elderly during a missile attack has since grown into a school-community program that has had many more benefits, both for the seniors and the 200 students involved. In addition to the comfort provided in a difficult security situation, the program helps ease the difficulties and loneliness of old age, improve the seniors' general quality of life and sense of security, and allows Ashkelon's teens to give back to the community and connect with the city's "forgotten" residents. The teens participating in the program gain a chance to get to know, appreciate and learn from a dwindling generation. The students have all signed up for the project for three years, until they graduate from high school. This continuity is meant to allow the youth to develop close ties with "their" seniors and vice versa. But before meeting their seniors for the first time, the pupils and their teacher-advisers attended preparatory workshops run by the municipal social service authorities. The seniors did the same, allowing questions, suspicions and expectations to be brought out into the open. Both the young and the old held discussions about what to do in specific situations, such as a missile attack or medical emergency, in order to avoid any surprises on either side. On their weekly visits, the high-school pupils may help with shopping, accompany their senior to the bank, the post office, or to a doctor's appointment. They also provide whatever assistance is needed, including changing light bulbs and doing simple chores around the house. They also come just to chat, play dominoes or accompany their older friends on a walk on a sunny day. Even before rockets actually began falling in the city, the students and their seniors had already practiced safety procedures, just in case. And then, the hypothetical scenario became reality as missiles fired from Gaza really did hit Ashkelon. The teens were in immediate and continuous contact with their seniors, both by telephone and home visits. In fact, the recent missile attacks on the city have actually strengthened the connection between the ORT students and the pensioners. One student participating in the Adopt a Senior program is Chen Choresh, a 16-year-old in ORT Ronson's biotechnology study track. Choresh is paired with 16-year-old graphics student Ravid Eliyahu. Together, they visit Rifka Shor, a 76-year-old widow. Since Shor enjoys books, the girls read to her. On nice days, they go with her for a walk to a nearby park. "Ravid and I have become very attached to Rifka and look forward to our visits. She's very interested in our lives, and so sweet. She gets all dressed up when we come to visit her because for her, it's a special occasion and that makes it special for us," Choresh says. She adds that she knows the other kids in the project feel the same. "All of us look at old people now with respect and admiration. They don't have it easy, and I know that befriending them has made them happier. When the Grads [Katyusha rockets] fell, we called Rifka right away, and she told us how she was worried about us!" For Esther Raviv, ("80 and a little bit") her volunteers bring a breath of fresh air. "At this age, everyone talks about their health problems and aches and pains. The girls speak a different language and it's very uplifting," she explains. Raviv says that her volunteers help her with her crossword puzzles and with her computer work. "During the missile attacks, they always phoned to see if I was okay or if I needed anything. I share my experiences with them and they share theirs with me. They bring life into what would otherwise be a boring day. They are very nice girls and very well-mannered, and I enjoy spending time with them," she says. The program has been such a success that it is being expanded to include the many other Ronson students who have asked to join. As Choresh put it, "Even though I'm busy with school and other activities, I wouldn't miss my meetings with Rifka for anything. I feel like I'm doing a really good thing for her and for me, too. "I think I can truthfully say that all of us who have adopted a senior are getting more than we're giving and it's a great feeling."