Mailing smiles: Cherry Creek Elementary takes part in intergenerational art project

From left, Marquette Senior Services Manager Maureen McFadden and Cherry Creek Elementary School Guidance Counselor Mary Ann Ferns hold artwork from the Cherry Creek Intergenerational Art Project at the city of Marquette's senior center along Baraga Avenue. (Photo courtesy of Tristan Luoma, city of Marquette arts and senior services coordinator)

MARQUETTE — In the course of a single lifetime, we have gone from one of the most age-integrated nations on earth to one defined by generational separation. Then, the vital social distancing of the past year severed the few cross-generational interactions that remained. A project conceived by Cherry Creek Elementary and endorsed by the Marquette City Senior Center hopes to bridge that gap and foster new connections by bringing smiles to children as they create and to seniors as they receive a small surprise in the mail.

This March, over 200 students of all ages illustrated shamrocks, rainbows and pots of gold to wish a fellow community member a happy St. Patrick’s Day. The green crayon and color washes were gently tucked into envelopes and eventually arrived at the door of a participant in the city’s Homemaking Program. A simple moment of shared joy was gifted without breaching the social circle of safety; the Cherry Creek Intergenerational Art Project was born.

A year’s worth of social distancing has taken its toll on everyone, but the populations most affected are the youngest and oldest members of our community.

Social interaction is an important part of growing up, but those connections never stop enriching our lives. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly one-third of seniors living in the U.S., live alone. Isolation is already a concern for aging people; however, this past year has amped up that concern tenfold.

While we battle the physical effects of the pandemic, an epidemic of social isolation cannot be ignored. Cherry Creek Elementary School Counselor Maryann Ferns, wanted to address the problem of isolation in our community and worked with her school’s art room to create art pieces, born from the heart of a child, to be distributed. “I believe that we can bring together the two generations and in turn, strengthen the community,” Ferns said. “We want the seniors to know that we care about them and hope they are doing well. We ultimately want to provide a smile, uplift the spirit, and brighten the day for those receiving the students’ art work. Beyond the practice of creation, this project became an opportunity for the kids to selflessly give to a stranger. They took a delight in having the chance to do something nice for others in their community without expecting anything in return – pure kindness.

“It was special for the kids to have an opportunity to ask themselves, ‘What can I do for you?'” Ferns said. “Ultimately, the students learn a valuable lesson of how their time and effort directly impacts others. It truly becomes a lovely memory that bonds the generations!”

Throughout the past year, Ferns personally experienced the effects of isolation with her own mother, Mary Hinds.

“We often forget that some people are living alone and now are limited to a small social circle. No longer can we enjoy something as simple as a coffee outing,” Ferns said.

She noticed though how much her mother delighted in the artwork she’d receive from her great-grandchildren and how the world depicted through the eyes of a child could beam light into challenging times. Inspired by this humble moment of joy and human connection, she reached out to the city of Marquette’s Senior Services Manager, Maureen McFadden, to connect the school with aging adults living alone.

Hinds was a grateful participant in the city’s Homemaking Program and always wanted others to know how much the extra human connection meant to her. Hinds passed away this past summer, but her memory lives on through the hundreds of smiles sent through the mail.

McFadden happily reported that she’s received wonderful feedback from the people who have received the artwork. Many look forward to more drawings in the future. One woman expressed her gratitude for a particularly imaginative drawing and had hung it on her fridge so that she could be reminded of her own grandkids each time she walked by.

“A child’s innocent perspective can bring so much joy to an otherwise dark time,” McFadden said.

Just as Hinds cherished the little moments of human connection, so too do over 200 individuals receiving a small token from their loving community.

There have been so many losses in the past year. Life has changed; but despite the challenges, a radical kindness has bloomed in our hearts. We check in on our neighbors and have been forced to slow down and appreciate those closest to us. This project is one example of many acts of love in our community.

Ferns said: “My heart sings to think of the hope and love found in Marquette County.”

We now not only have time, but take time to pause and ask ourselves, What can I do for you? Think about what you can do to help an older adult in your own life. Does their walkway need shoveling? Can you help with an errand? It can be as simple as just stopping to say “Hey, how’s your day?”.

Have an idea to share joy between generations? Call your local senior center and ask how you can help lift up your community.

The Marquette City Senior Services Center can be reached at 906-228-0456.


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