It’s late morning at the end of May as the sun beats down on the courtyard in The Village of Tansley Woods with the intensity of mid-Summer, and Jackson Hill and Rod Pullen sit under the shade of a patio umbrella. The two friends have known each other for short few months, but this is the first time they’ve ever met in person.
Decades in age may separate them, but they share a love of sport in common, which is one of the things that drew them closer as they exchanged letters back and forth, Rod from his home in the Village and Jackson from his 4th Grade classroom at Silverheights Public School in Cambridge. To see Jackson and his classmates mingling with their new friends is the culmination of a program teacher Laura Abel first conceived of in the fall. Laura has been a recreation team member at Tansley Woods since the first Retirement neighbourhoods opened in 2013, and when she became a full-time teacher at Silverheights, she continued to work in the Village part-time.
“This is not like coming to a job,” she says of her time in the Village. “This is like coming home.”
Her passion for educating youth combined with her dedication to the older adults she is proud to serve with this pen-pal program. This day, as young and old come together for a series of games and a luncheon together, clearly brings pleasure to Laura’s smiling eyes.
“It’s really rewarding to see this,” Laura says, surveying the many groups of pupils and residents gathered in the shade of their patio umbrellas, laughing and telling stories. Rod and Jackson are among them and, as Jackson offers the gift of a new book to Rod – Bobby Orr’s autobiography – a special moment unfolds.
Jackson explains that he shared his love of hockey with Rod in one of his letters and mentioned his favourite hockey player is Connor McDavid. Rod responded with one of his all-time favourites, Orr, and Jackson knew he wanted to offer the book as a gift to his new friend. The night before their visit, just as Jackson was almost at his baseball game, he reminded his father of the idea for the gift and they quickly rerouted to the bookstore.
Rod’s gratitude is palpable as he thanks the young man for his kind gesture. “This was incredibly thoughtful,” he says, holding up the book and smiling across the table at Jackson.
As a former teacher, Rod said he appreciated not only the chance to make a new friend, but also how Jackson’s skills as a writer improved over the year.
“The thing that I enjoyed the most was watching Jackson go from writing one sentence to writing three pages,” Rod says. “It may not have been absolutely perfect but let me tell you, there was a huge improvement, so I was quite thrilled about that.” He says his personal reward was the opportunity to reconnect with young people again at a time when most of the people he connects with are of his generation. “It was really quite beneficial,” Rod says.
Jackson says he grew to look forward to the letters and he also noticed his skills improve, which for any young pupil at this stage in school development is wonderful progress. The courtyard at Tansley Woods is filled with many young pupils feeling the benefits of their new connections on this day, proving the great worth of spanning new bridges across the generations.
It’s a day well worth the smiles under the hot, near-summer sun.