A Transformative Bond: Older Adults and Children Connect Over A Good Book

November 16, 2016

After almost 40 years, Rydal Park resident Pat Quigg and her Reading Buddies program continue to link older adults and children in the Philadelphia area.

te1_3293Almost 40 years later, Pat Quigg can remember when the idea first popped into her head. She was walking from her home in Philadelphia’s Center City section to her church, First Presbyterian Church, at 21st and Walnut Streets when she continually noticed something.

“When I was walking to church, I noticed there were a lot of kids walking around the streets in Center City,” Pat recalled. “I thought young people really needed something to do. And then I remembered a radio ad for the School District of Philadelphia saying they were looking for help. So it all kind of came together.”

Fast forward to 2016, and the idea is still alive and flourishing in Philadelphia.

The Reading Buddies program is the brainchild of Pat, a resident of Presby’s Inspired Life’s Rydal Park community in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. The program links together local children and older adults at churches, hospitals, continuing care retirement communities and allows the children and older adults to read to one another for an hour each week.

“It was the right thing to do at the right time,” said Pat, whose husband, Dave, was a chair member of the local Big Brothers chapter. “These people, they show interest in a child and show that someone cares. That can be so important in a child’s life.”

Pat, who had never taught children formally before starting the Reading Buddies program, and her team rented a bus and would pick up and drive the students to the various locations to read with the older adults.

Reading Buddies and Presby’s Inspired Life first crossed paths when the program came to the Riverside Presbyterian Apartments—Presby’s first Affordable Housing community for older adults in Center City Philadelphia. Pat specifically remembers one student who would go to Riverside with Reading Buddies.

“We really started [at Riverside],” Pat said. “We still go there today and it’s so great. So many students have been there with us. We have one girl who went to Temple University and plays violin. She would come back and have concerts for the residents and even bring her roommates with her!”

It was hard for Pat to estimate the number of students who have participated in Reading Buddies over the years, but she would estimate it’s in the thousands.

“We started with older children (middle school age), but we have younger children as well, which is great,” Pat said. “We have children as young as fourth grade now.”

She also estimated that Reading Buddies now travels to about 20-25 different locations in the metropolitan Philadelphia area, including Presby’s Inspired Life communities Riverside, Interfaith House in Germantown, Old City and the 58th Street campus in Southwest Philadelphia.

“It’s about the interaction and that’s incredibly important for both the children and the older adults,” Pat said. “I can’t say enough about the support system we have.”

So after all these years of success, where does Pat see Reading Buddies heading into the future?

“Well, I’d like to get more buddies involved,” Pat said. “But I love this. I love what I do. I just love it and I’m still having fun with it. Why give it up?”

To learn how you can become a Reading Buddy email: Melissa.Fordyce@PresbysInspiredLife.org.

Facts on literacy in Philadelphia