At the Santa Clara Senior Center on the morning of Feb. 14, middle school students from Don Callejon School came bearing Valentine cards and gifts. They stopped by the gym, the Multipurpose Room, the service desks, the lobby and front entrance. They handed out Valentines to seniors, whose faces immediately lit up upon receiving them. These students were part of the Santa Clara Fire Department’s Better Together program.
“The Better Together program is a mentor program where Santa Clara Fire Department’s firefighters work with middle school students on teamwork skills and leadership skills,” said Zach McGhie, firefighter and program coordinator of Better Together. “Beverly Molina (firefighter and assistant coordinator of Better Together) came up with this idea a few years ago. The idea behind going to the senior living facilities and the Senior Center is so that the students would have to interact with a different social group other than the groups they might normally interact with.”
During the week of Valentine’s Day, four groups of middle school students from the Better Together program visited different senior communities. Two groups of Cabrillo Middle School students visited The Westmont and Bracher Senior Apartments on Feb. 12 and Feb. 13, respectively. On Feb. 13, students from Buchser Middle School visited the Liberty Tower. Then came the Valentine’s Day visit to the Senior Center by Don Callejon School students.
“Leading up to it, they make Valentine cards,” McGhie said. “We also talk to the kids about how to communicate with people they don’t know. We talk about what they can write on their Valentine cards, how to say something to brighten someone’s day. We talk to them about how they could talk to seniors. They could ask the seniors about where they grew up and have they lived in the city for a long time. The next time we meet, we will talk with the kids about what they learned from the seniors they met and what they talked about.”
“I made a box car with red card stock paper to put my Valentine cards in,” said Ina Otah, 11, a sixth grader from Don Callejon School. “I also used red card stock paper to make the Valentine cards. I said ‘Happy Valentine’s Day’ to the seniors and I gave them a card afterward. It felt good to make the seniors happy.”
Marilyn Keever was headed to gym at the Senior Center when a student approached her with a Valentine.
“I didn’t remember it was Valentine’s Day,” Keever said. “I saw all these kids with Valentines. I got a Valentine from a boy. It wasn’t just a card. It was a piece of candy, a chocolate heart, that was wrapped inside a box like a present. It was such a sweet gesture.”