We are all different but still the same.
This is the driving idea behind a second-year partnership between FAIR Pilgrim Lane and Stages Theatre Company, called Connecting Generations. The objective is to build community by connecting youth and elders. The hope is that by recognizing similarities and honoring differences, the participants will come away with an understanding that, no matter our generation, we can learn from each other.
In the program, fourth graders and older community volunteers – recruited through the Robbinsdale Area Schools VIP (Volunteers in Partnership) program – correspond in the old-time way: using paper, envelopes, stamps, and the U.S. Postal Service. After exchanging letters, the students create a multimedia performance to share with their penpals and community members. This year’s performance takes place at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 9, at FAIR Pilgrim Lane.
Connecting Generations has its roots in multigenerational programs created pre-pandemic at Stages, an organization that for nearly four decades has been “committed to the enrichment and education of children and youth” through theater. Since the early 2000s, a partnership between Stages and FAIR Schools has helped students build skills for a variety of subjects through theater.
“There are benefits on multiple levels,” says Trudy Monette, the Stages staffer at FAIR Pilgrim Lane, of what students learn through Connecting Generations. “It ties to the curriculum, providing an opportunity for writing, asking and answering questions, and enriching large and small group discussions. In addition, the students demonstrate empathy and a desire to learn from their penpals.”
The performance taking place this week will feature the students performing songs chosen to amplify themes in the correspondence. Students have also created “blackout poetry” from the letters they received.
“You can do blackout poetry with any piece of writing by circling the words that mean something to you,” says Monette. “Some of it is really profound,” she adds. Last year an adult shared about losing her son, and the resulting student artwork was powerful and exhibited depth that teachers hadn’t seen before.
This has been a win-win project, notes Monette. “More than half of last year’s adult volunteers came back for the second year of the project. “And last year the kids wanted to keep in touch with their penpals.”
And why not? One older adult wrote to his penpal, “Your love of gymnastics and dance tells me that you are a good athlete who can use your skills to be a leader . . . Someday fourth graders will be watching you.”
The adult penpals will be guests of honor at Thursday’s event.