Senior adults and elementary children enjoy laughing, learning, listening, and loving, yet in our culture today they do not have many opportunities to do this together.
Grandparents often live in different cities, children don’t run up and down the street visiting with senior neighbors sitting on porches, and generations are separated for many activities in the church.
A number of years ago, two Presbyterians in Texas, Godwin Dixon and Miatta Wilson, had a conversation about their love of camp and their dreams of ways to have generations interact. Both believed church camp to be a primary place for Christian education and “mountaintop” faith experience.
Godwin, former CEO of Presbyterian Communities and Services in Dallas, proposed retirement centers as a location for an intergenerational camp. The centers had the perfect combination of infrastructure —facilities, food, and healthcare—and older adults with time and talents to share with children.
From this conversation, Miatta, then director of Children’s Ministries at Dallas’s First Presbyterian Church, worked with Tom Tickner, then chaplain for Grace Presbyterian Village, an assisted living community, to create a weeklong summer day camp.
In Grace Day Camp, fourth through fifth grade children from First Presbyterian Church joined in fellowship and fun with residents at the retirement community. The older adults had many opportunities to share their gifts with the young campers. These ranged from making fudge to knitting to playing cards. Campers also learned about the vocations at the center and of the residents.
The day camp’s success led to an expansion to Presbyterian Village North which hosted children from Northpark and Preston Hollow Presbyterian Churches.
The relationships born during camp were nurtured during the year through additional interactions at the church or the older adult complex. All involved in the camp witnessed God’s love and grace at work. Other joys included the relationships built between individual participants and the host organizations.
Planning a Day Camp at an Older Adult Community
- Identify a retirement community in your area and meet with the program director and chaplain to make a proposal.
- Take a group of children for a short visit to introduce the children and retirement center to the idea.
- Involve members of the church who live at the center or who make visits to the center. Ask them to identify folks to visit, gifts people might have to share, or who might be willing to help be adult sponsors with the children.
- Establish logistics and program, including cost, transportation, meals and snacks, schedule, educational opportunities, recreational times, and all activities. (Include tips on visiting seniors in different stages.)
- Design a t-shirt which children, staff, and residents who participate can enjoy.
- Work with the staff to identify seniors who have a gift they can share and arrange for supplies to be provided.
- Recruit youth assistants.
- Plan a variety of activities, snacks, and activities. Activities can be high energy or low energy; with seniors, for seniors, or just for kids.
- Overplan and then go with the flow, adapting on the fly.
Adapting This Concept For Your Needs
- Plan a one-day event instead of five days, or half days.
- Join together with several churches in your community.
- Bring the senior adults and children to the church for the event.
- Hold the camp at an adult day care center instead of residence center.
- Have children bring their lunch.
Miatta Wilson is a mission associate in the Office of Christian Formation of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. There she helps connect faith formation leaders to resources and to each other. She is a certified Christian educator and ruling elder with over 30 years’ experience as an educator with congregations in Dallas, Texas. Her passions include the outdoors, travel, intergenerational ministry, mission/service-learning, and camp.
This article originally appeared in the 2023 Older Adult Ministry Planning Guide.