Clover Healthcare resident Arlene Witherall cracks up Wednesday morning while playing a game of Bingo with Clover Healthcare’s Intergenerational Preschool and Childcare Program student Jensen Shaw at Clover Healthcare, a Senior Lifestyle community on Minot Avenue in Auburn. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

AUBURN — For up to an hour a day, seniors at Clover Health Care, a Senior Lifestyle community, get a visit from some of the building’s preschool children from the Clover Health Care intergenerational preschool and child care program.

The children usually spend the time playing games, coloring and interacting with the seniors.

When the small group of preschoolers begins dancing to upbeat nursery rhyme songs, their natural enthusiasm and whimsy rubs off on some of the senior residents, whose mood seems to almost immediately shift more positively just by watching them.

When the kids walk into a building neighborhood they are generally greeted with open arms and smiles, as the toddlers make their way to their favorite “grandfriends.”

Some of the seniors help the toddlers find numbers on their Bingo cards, some dance with the toddlers, while other seniors play their guitar for the children.

The classroom of about 20 students is split among a few small groups that visit “grandfriends” in different building neighborhoods, preschool Program Director Kimberly St. Pierre said. Each group, one day per week, will usually visit the same building neighborhood, which sometimes results in close bonds between a senior and a preschooler.


Staff also plan occasional events, some of which include a dance party with all of the preschool kids and they invite any senior to attend, she said. Other events include building holiday and special event parades, egg hunts and trick or treating.

Jackie Doucette and preschooler Jackie Garay have developed a close friendship and are affectionately referred to as “the Jackies” by staff. Doucette enjoys all of the children who visit but she has grown close to Jackie, who always greets her with a hug, she said. The two enjoy dancing and coloring together.

“She runs up to me, hugs me and jumps in my arms — she’s a doll,” she said.

Doucette has four children, 14 grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and a great-great-grandchild who all call her “maemae,” she said. The preschoolers remind her of her young descendants.

Former school bus driver Skip Raynor leads a procession of Clover Preschool students down a hall Wednesday morning as they march and dance to music at Clover Health Care in Auburn. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Sometimes the preschoolers take the elevators and sometimes they take the stairs up to see their “grandfriends” but Jackie always feels excited to visit Doucette and the other residents, she said. Her favorite game to play with the seniors is bingo.

Maxine “Skip” Raynor sits at the window and watches some of the preschool students get on the bus for afternoon pre-K some days. She spent more than 30 years driving a school bus in Mechanic Falls. Though she never had children herself, her favorite part of the job was interacting with the students, she said.


A natural-born thrill seeker, Raynor rode motorcycles and was among the first women in the state to earn her pilot’s license, she said. “The next thing I want to do is jump out of a plane,” she not-so-jokingly stated while sitting in a chair at Clover.

She loves all of the preschool children who visit her, they remind her of the children she drove around on her school bus, she said. She describes them as precious and enjoys seeing their eyes light up when they come into her building neighborhood. Visiting with them brings her joy.

“They are so cute,” she said. “I like to just talk to them and laugh with them and everything is just so cute.”

In 1980, former Clover Health Care owner Bill Gillis was first inspired to open the child care program, which has since expanded, in the nursing home after he saw the positive interactions between residents at that time and his young children, according to St. Pierre.


Jackie Doucette, a resident at Clover Healthcare, gives Clover Healthcare’s Intergenerational Preschool and Childcare Program student Cole Demers a hug Wednesday morning in one of the Dublin neighborhoods at the Auburn facility. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Donna Rousseau, Clover Health Care’s director of sales and marketing, used to call the preschool the best-kept secret in Auburn but she cannot call it that anymore because it is more well known, with a waitlist of kids whose parents want to admit them into the program. She advises parents to sign their child up for a spot by the age of two if they want to have a good chance at being admitted.


“The fact that the program has stood the test of time speaks volumes to what a great idea it was and since it has grown in so many directions like a beautiful sprouting vine,” she said.

The friendships have only positive impacts on both the children and the seniors, with both getting something positive from the relationship, according to St. Pierre.

The children will get many of the residents to come out of their rooms for a visit, along with visiting some less mobile residents in their rooms, she said. When the children are around, the seniors seem to be in a lighter mood and have a little more energy.

Some of the residents have grandchildren or great-grandchildren, while others worked with children, and seeing the preschoolers brings back those memories for them, she said. On the other hand, some preschoolers do not see their grandparents or great-grandparents often and having “grandfriends” reminds them of that relationship.

Clover Preschool student Jackie Garay has her cheek pinched by a resident Wednesday morning at Clover Health Care in Auburn. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Having “grandfriends” exposes preschoolers to more diversity and types of abilities, St. Pierre said. Sometimes young children can shy away from that but her preschool students do not.

“They see an older folk out in the community in a wheelchair or a walker and they run up to them and ‘are you my grandfriend?’” she said. “… It’s natural to them because they’re in that environment every single day.”


Rousseau also thinks that having “grandfriends” teaches kids not to be afraid of the aging process, she said. Sometimes staff have to have tough talks with the preschoolers when a close “grandfriend” dies, which is not often, and though the preschoolers do not quite understand death, they are taught that there is a natural beginning, middle and end to life.

In that situation, staff help the preschoolers focus on the joy the “grandfriend” left behind and the grieving process with exercises such as singing, planting flowers in their memory, drawing them a picture and sending it somewhere, along with other activities.

COVID-19 restrictions were tough on the preschoolers and the seniors, St. Pierre said. Both groups wanted to visit each other and the children did not completely understand why they could not see their “grandfriends.”

Staff organized window visits, during which preschoolers would wave to residents through their windows, and when COVID-19 restrictions were lifted they celebrated with a building parade, she said. Through the pandemic lockdown, having little socially distanced interactions with the preschoolers, such as the window visits, helped seniors cope with the isolation.

“There wasn’t a dry eye in the building,” she said about the post-COVID-19 restrictions parade. “Staff here were crying, residents were joyful, I was in complete tears. You just forget about what an impact we make on this building.”

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