Town Hall Seniors Visit Bennett Day School: A Story on Connection

Written by Carla Harrigan

Last month, five seniors from Town Hall Apartments — Chicago’s first LGBT-Friendly Senior Housing brought in partnership with Center on Halsted and Heartland Alliance — joined the students of Bennett Day School for Friendship Day. This time included an afternoon of crafts, games, snacks, and connection. Intergenerational engagement allows for us to bridge gaps that could separate us in a world where togetherness is needed most.

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Check out the story of Carla Harrigan, a senior community member who was touched by her interaction with Ameenah of Bennett Day School.

It was an overcast day in mid-March when I met Ameenah. There had been the threat of rain all morning, so I was thankful the school had provided transportation to facilitate our afternoon visit.

Upon our arrival we were met by Cally Vevers, Director of Auxiliary Programs, and a group of students who were lined up on either side of the main hall. One student stepped forward, inviting us all into her domain. “Come on in!” she said with a bright smile, welcoming us with unabashed enthusiasm. That was Ameenah.

Each of us was assigned a student who would give us a tour, show us where to register as guests and accompany us to all the planned activities. As luck would have it, I was paired up with Ameenah. She had beautiful brown eyes and skin, thick braided hair and moved quickly and gracefully like a ballerina or athlete. In contrast, I have white skin with ruddy cheeks, thinning gray hair and walk painfully slow with a cane; I can’t stand for extended periods of time. Without even knowing that, she immediately found me an office chair that she personally wheeled around during our tour of the school.

We bonded instantly. We both loved to read. She has been to Iowa and I had lived there for 18 years. As we talked, I was impressed that she was as interested in knowing about my past and I was in her future.

Our first stop was a classroom where our student would choose a story to read to us. Ameenah thoughtfully chose a spot for us to sit, on a colorful rug in a quiet section of the room. She chose one of her favorite books from the shelf. It was a story about how an old, bland, cracked unattractive city wall became an inclusive community project that produced a beautiful mural. She politely asked if I’d like to see the pictures after she finished reading each page and stopped intermittently to ask me questions and my opinions about the story.

Our next stop was a visit with an early childhood class to do an art project. Those kids sure loved their glue! We dove right in, picking colors of felt and pom-poms to decorate the project of the day. I noticed Ameenah’s keen sense of design and order, as she paired the colored pom-poms and carefully spaced them on the felt. She told me I could have the finished project as a souvenir. I remember feeling doubtful at the time that it would survive the trip home. I wrapped it carefully in tissue and hoped for the best. Miraculously, it was fine and when dried completely, took an honored place on my fridge.

Our final activity took place in the school’s cafeteria; the tables contained cookies, frosting, decorating gel and sprinkles. An instant party! Ameenah explained this was a special treat because of our visit. After we had excitedly put two cookies on our plates and began decorating, we overheard a teacher at another table tell a child to “just take one cookie, please.” We looked at each other with wide eyes and then down at our plates. “Oops!” I whispered under my breath so only she could hear. Ameenah took the lead, apologizing and saying she was sorry, but that she had “accidentally” taken two cookies. “Me, too.” I chimed in. As it turned out, there were more than enough cookies for everyone.

I was so impressed with Ameenah that day, as I observed her obvious skills, knowledge, understanding and caring spirit. In a few short hours something amazing had happened. We had come together determined to help navigate and explore each other’s worldview. This reunion of young and old had renewed and produced HOPE, confirming to me that in this place, students were truly learning skills and values like social justice and the need to contribute to world healing. I left feeling confident that they really could create a brighter future — and knowing that Ameenah was well on her way.

Ameenah and Carla teach us that there is more which connects us than separates us and that, together, we are able to foster a community which is diverse and inclusive on all fronts.

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Center on Halsted is the Midwest’s largest community center dedicated to advancing the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Movement.

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