CAPE ELIZABETH — Community members, students and school staff gathered last week in the Cape Elizabeth High School auditorium for the kick-off event and presentation of a $1,500 grant to the Senior to Senior community service program.
The program connects high school seniors to senior citizens in town. The students volunteer to help the elderly with chores, errands or just spend time together.
Few could have predicted that such a community program could have evolved out of an act of vandalism that shocked the community last spring.
Last March, 10 high school students vandalized the school in a senior prank gone awry, resulting in thousands of dollars in damage and several tarnished reputations.
Alex McFarlane, one of the students in the group dubbed the “Cape 10,” came up with the idea of Senior to Senior as a way to fulfill 60 hours of community service required by a disciplinary contract with the district attorney’s office.
McFarlane had started his own after-school business, Mac & Zac, hauling junk to the transfer station in the truck he affectionately named Zac “As we started discussing his options, he asked me if he could do his junk hauling for free for the elderly,” his mother, Jayne Hanley, recalled.
McFarlane’s idea was met with enthusiasm from others in the Cape 10 and after posting a few notices, they received numerous responses. They expanded the services to include helping the elderly with a variety of chores or errands.
After the community service hours were met, restitution was made, and the Cape 10 graduated, the program could have ended. Instead, it took on a life of its own, propelled by incoming seniors at CEHS like Michelle Munger, who said she signed up to volunteer with Senior to Senior because she didn’t have any older relatives in Maine.
“I love listening to the stories that generation has,” Munger said. “It’s fun to talk with them.”
Principle Jeff Shedd also provided students with a little extra incentive.
“Principle Shedd said we could have our senior hallway back if we did the Senior to Senior program,” senior class President Stephen Monaghan said. The hallway privilege was revoked after the Cape 10 incident.
Monaghan, who was already a Senior to Senior volunteer, easily found support from his peers and presented Shedd with a petition from students who would commit to the program.
Shedd acknowledged there were “negotiations,” but said it was a win-win situation.
“These are good kids and this program is really, really cool. It can help change the image some senior citizens have of high school students and the students can feel empowered that they can help out,” he said.
While the program was gaining support from within the school, it was also finding backing in the community.
Cape Elizabeth business owner Paula Banks, who works in geriatric care management, said she was “thrilled” when she heard about Senior to Senior.
“As far as I’m concerned, the idea of seniors in high school connecting with seniors in the community is brilliant,” Banks said.
Banks said she decided to “put her money where her mouth was” and wrote a grant application to the Southern Maine Agency on Aging on behalf of the Senior to Senior program, asking for $1,500 in seed money. She and her sister, Anne Neelon, who owns Two Lights Home Care, offered to match the grant if it was accepted. In November, they were informed the grant was one of four selected out of nearly 20 applications.
Ann O’Sullivan of the SMAA said the grant was chosen because “it offers such a great opportunity for intergenerational partnership.”
“The bulk of the grant will be used for building a Web site and placing advertisements,” said Hanley, who is now one of the program advisers. “Right now, we have over 400 unused hours of community service that students have signed up for. We just need to advertise and get the word out, because we know the need is there.”
The grant is expected to support the program for approximately three years.
Cape Elizabeth High School senior class President Stephen Monaghan, left, accepts a ceremonial $1,500 check for the Senior to Senior community service program from Ann O’Sullivan of Southern Maine Agency on Aging. (Gunther photo)