Local Schools

Holy Spirit students connect with senior citizens

Seventh grader Natalia Banturaki chats with Gary McCoy during the Sharing Generations lunch, which gives the two generations an opportunity to connect. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

by Moira Cullings

OVERLAND PARK — They’ve met widows and wartime veterans.

“One lady hasn’t been out of the house because her husband just passed away,” said Riley Kramer, a seventh grader at Holy Spirit School in Overland Park.

Members of the school’s seventh grade class are learning a lot as they connect with the parish’s senior members through a Sharing Generations lunch launched for the first time this school year.

“Christ wants us to build relationships,” said Kramer, “and connecting with people that are older than us can give us [positive] experiences in our own lives.”

Riley Kramer, a seventh grader at Holy Spirit School in Overland Park, serves lunch to Patricia Priputin during the Sharing Generations lunch on March 21, while Dee Koeppen looks on. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

The group meets every other month at the parish, with the latest lunch held on March 21.

Doug Leikam, director of adult evangelization and formation and the seventh and eighth grade theology teacher at Holy Spirit, said the goal for his students is simple.

“We’re doing this because we want them to fall in love with helping others,” he said.

Meaningful conversations

When they arrive at Holy Spirit, the senior guests are greeted by the seventh graders.

They’re helped inside and seated at a table, where they enjoy a hot meal, an activity and conversations with their young companions.

“I tell them about things that we did when we were a child,” said parishioner Eloise Lenahan. “And they tell us what their plans are for the future, where they’re going to high school.”

Seventh grader Ellie Dean shares a laugh with her friend Mary at the Sharing Generations lunch on March 21 at Holy Spirit Parish in Overland Park. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

At lunches held during the seasons of Advent and Lent, the sacrament of reconciliation was available to the guests so they didn’t have to wait in line.

When they head home, they’re given a goody bag and a to-go meal. The students also follow up by sending each guest a letter in the mail.

For Lenahan, the group has been a blessing.

“I think our parish is very involved in meeting all the needs of all the different age groups,” she said. “And I think it’s an important part of the church.”

Parishioner Kitty Colwell agreed.

“It was a very unique idea for them to come up with this and to get all of us together,” she said. “Every one of [the students] are just delightful and they’re so full of energy.

“And they’re just so positive. For kids this age to sit down with people our age and carry on a conversation is a wonderful thing.”

Lifelong skills

The idea for the Sharing Generations group came from parish accountant Kathleen Kaufman, whose young adult daughter encouraged her to look for additional ways to serve the parish.

Kaufman was inspired by her own parents, who moved to the area four years ago and have sought out social opportunities around town.

She brought up the concept of connecting seniors with students to Leikam.

“And then, all of a sudden talking about it at a staff meeting, it exploded as far as the opportunities that could happen with this,” said Kaufman.

“This is an event that you just have to sit back and watch the Holy Spirit work,” she added. “It’s just crazy how many fruits have come from it and how it struck a chord and met a need.”

Kathleen Kaufman, left, sends Joann Feehan on her way with a to-go meal and a goody bag following the Sharing Generations lunch at Holy Spirit Parish in Overland Park. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

Sharing Generations has taught the seventh graders practical skills like setting a table and waiting on guests.

It’s also helped them master the art of making conversation.

“I’ve seen, the last seven years I’ve been a youth minister, some of those soft skills of interacting with others are a little bit delayed [from] where they have been,” said Leikam.

Through the lunch, he said, students learn “how to have great conversations, how to be with people that aren’t of their own generation and to . . . create a space for them to feel welcomed and invited.”

Parish family

Seventh grader Bennett Hubbell has enjoyed getting to know the seniors.

“I think it’s a good experience for all of us,” he said, “because we get to interact with them and see what [life] was like in their day and ask them questions.

“Some of them don’t have grandkids to talk to or their wife or husband just died, and they need someone to talk to.”

The students said some of the guests seem downhearted when they first arrive at the lunch.

“But then, right when they sit down, they see you and that you want to be there,” said Alana Cabantac. “You showing a smile just shows so much.

“And you showing that you’re there and that you want to talk to them shows a lot.”

Seventh grader David De Guzman works on an activity with Glenda Palazzolo during the Sharing Generations lunch at Holy Spirit Parish in Overland Park. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

Sadie Milnes is happy to keep the guests company.

“Some of these people don’t always have something to do,” she said, “or these are the only activities they have in an entire week.”

She’s inspired by the effort the seniors are making to stay connected.

“They still want to show up and they want to be involved with the younger generation,” she said. “That’s really cool.”

Cabantac and her peers are looking forward to seeing their friends again in May.

“I’m so grateful that we get to experience this,” she said. “Seeing someone that’s older than us and actually bonding with them . . . it’s such a good feeling.”

To view more photos from the most recent Sharing Generations lunch, click here.

About the author

Moira Cullings

Moira attended St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park and Benedictine College in Atchison. She majored in marketing, minored in psychology and played center midfield for the women’s soccer team. Moira joined The Leaven staff as a feature writer and social media editor in 2015. After a move to Denver, Moira resumed her full-time position at The Leaven and continues to write and manage its website, social media channels. Her favorite assignment was traveling to the Holy Land to take photos for a group pilgrimage in 2019.

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