Wesley Acres residents make a difference to neighborhood third-graders

posted on Friday, February 23, 2018

Grace and Isabelle reading

Grace and Isabelle spent time reading together on a recent Friday afternoon at Wesley Acres.

Reading isn't easy for Isabelle. But with the help of her friend Grace, she no longer views it as a chore.

"I like everything about it now," Isabelle, a third-grader, said of her monthly reading dates with Grace, a former teacher who retired to Wesley Acres, WesleyLife's flagship community in Des Moines, 11 years ago. "It's fun -- and I get juice and cookies."

Grace Dickinson, Isabelle's tutor, doesn't mind the juice and cookies, either. But most of all, she enjoys the satisfaction she feels as she watches Isabelle's reading skills improve.

Grace and other Wesley Acres residents work with the students -- all third-graders at nearby Greenwood Elementary -- once a month as part of an intergenerational program that began 15 years ago as a cooperative venture between the community and the school.

Each resident involved in the program pairs up with either one or two students and listens as the students read to them, and the adults offer support and helpful hints along the way.

"I love this time with Isabelle," Grace, who began teaching first grade in 1945, said. "When I became involved with this program, I asked for a child with reading difficulties, and Isabelle has some challenges. But she's improving. During our first session, she was unable to focus long enough to read a single word. Now she can pay attention long enough to read sentences."

That kind of improvement isn't unusual when older adults take an interest in helping children with their academic skills, Greenwood third-grade teacher Kristie Lamphere said. Kristie has been bringing her classes to Wesley Acres since the reading program began, and she said the value of the program is "too great to be measured."

"The students love it, and it benefits them so much," Kristie said. "These students have very different life experiences and very different reading abilities. But their Wesley Acres friends care about them and accept them as they are, and they are very patient with them. It's like love from an extra grandparent, and the good reading practice is an extra benefit."

Kristie said the interaction benefits the students in myriad ways. "Many of them, when we come here at the beginning of a school year, are not necessarily comfortable around older people; maybe they don't live close to grandparents or older friends," she said. "A few weeks into the school year, they're calling that person their friend -- even their best friend. They're developing confidence and relationship-building skills. It's wonderful to watch."

Wesley Acres resident life coordinator Wickie Dawe, who manages the program for the community, said the reading partnership benefits the residents in countless ways as well.

"In any intergenerational partnership, both groups benefit," Wickie said. "We see it in our residents in their confidence -- they way it makes them feel to see that these students need them, and that they're providing real assistance. As we grow older, sometimes we can feel we're not needed as much. These residents prove time and time again that they have so much to offer."

As a health and well-being organization, WesleyLife supports the enhancement of physical, intellectual, and spiritual well-being among residents, clients, and team members, and intergenerational programming is a part of that commitment. Keep watching this space to learn about WesleyLife's intergenerational programs and initiatives!

To learn more about life at Wesley Acres, call marketing director Linda Foster at (515) 271-6505, or email her at

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