Bridge narrows gap between kids and vets

In time for Veterans Day and Pioneer School’s annual veterans dinner, representatives of the school and the Edward C. Allworth Veterans Home cut a ribbon on a new bridge Nov. 7 between the two neighboring properties. 

Pioneer students and veteran residents interact frequently in a variety of activities throughout the year, but they’ve always had to go out to Fifth Street and around a fence to reach the other side. A new path connects the two deep inside the two properties, allowing simpler access. 

It’s “connecting generations,” said Abraham Andrade, Veterans  Home assistant administrator. 

Kelly Odegaard, Veterans Home administrator said he and Pioneer Principal Tonya Cairo “started talking about this as soon as we opened.” 

 A couple of years ago, Veterans Home staff sat down with teachers at a luncheon and started planning out activities for the school year. 

Intergenerational programs “are very successful,” Odegaard said. Many children may not have a grandparent, and veteran residents can fill in that role. 

Veteran Paul Wilson, Odegaard, Cairo, representing the Veterans Home, and Pioneer fifth-grader Kale Robinson cut a ribbon opening the pathway on Nov. 7 in front of a contingent of Veterans Home residents. 

“I think it’s pretty good,” Robinson said. “It’s really useful.”

He said he’s been over to the Veterans Home several times while attending Pioneer School. 

“It’s quick and easy to access our friends next door,” said Cairo. “We’re over there monthly.”

The class with the highest attendance each month goes to the home for various activities as a reward, she said. 

The ribbon cutting ceremony preceded Pioneer’s annual veterans dinner, and veterans made their way across the bridge to reach the event. Veterans were greeted to a large display honoring them, followed by dinner and program. 

“I’m just happy we’re doing it again,” Robinson said. “It’s a great honor to host this dinner for the veterans.”

Cairo started the dinner while she was teaching at Hamilton Creek. She brought it with her when she transferred to Pioneer in 2007, and other teachers took it on annually after she became principal in 2013. 

“I had teachers that volunteered to take it on,” Cairo said. “Different teachers do different programs each year.”

This year, fifth-grade teachers Toby Winningham and Lisa Richards organized the dinner.

She said many people have been attending the dinner ever since it started. 

For Donna Samoylich, a CNA at the Veterans Home, it was a return to her childhood. 

She helped put on the dinner when she was in the fifth grade, in 2003, she said. “We made our own aprons. I did a speech on patriotism. I couldn’t pronounce it. We all sang ‘I’m Proud to be an American.’ We all tried to do solos. It’s just so much nostalgia,” and watching the children at work, it left her wondering, “was I really that tiny?”