"I have a strong suspicion," says Gilfus, "that this could be the wave of the future." That would be fine with O'Connor, the 78-year-old widow who became Frances Schervier's first volunteer. "I get a lot when I give," she says. "I come home and I can be happy for the whole day."
Call it Romper Room with a twist. Or just call it a good idea. Instead of kiddies toddling off to day care and senior citizens languishing in retirement, a program in New York has both groups mixing it up together. At the FRANCES SCHERVIER CHILD CARE AND LEARNING CENTER in the Bronx, elderly volunteers like WINNIE O'CONNOR now lend a grandma's touch to games, storytelling and daily kiddie care. "As soon as I heard about it, I signed up," says O'Connor. "Children are lovely, even when they're making noise." At a time when the numbers of aging retirees and working parents are growing rapidly, says Warren Gilfus of New York State's Office for the Aging, "we have senior citizens out there who are forgotten and placed away from the mainstream, and children out there not getting the attention they need from their own families. Why not bring child care back to a homelike atmosphere, and seniors back into the mainstream socially?" The state-funded program, which began in 1988, has now expanded to 23 centers. (Some offer day care for both the kids and the infirm parents of working adults—the so-called Sandwich Generation.)