Spotlight: Toby Kumin and her young sons create a special friendship at JCHE
On a recent sunny January morning, Toby Kumin drives her van to the entrance of JCHE’s Brighton campus. She and her young sons pick up Bella Goldenberg, a resident of Genesis House. It is a perfect winter morning for this four-some to head to a nearby park.
Toby is prepared with bikes, scooters and helmets for the boys. Bella is also ready. When she spends time with the Kumins each month, she enjoys hosting snack time. Today she brings applesauce and cookies. The boys ride their bicycles near the bench where Toby and Bella are chatting while attentively watching the kids. Each child eagerly shows his biking prowess. Toby and Bella are a receptive audience, shouting out words of encouragement as the boys speed by.
Watching the relaxed interactions, it is easy to surmise that they are a three-generation family enjoying a favorite outing. However, the Kumins and Bella met just 18 months ago and have enjoyed monthly gatherings ever since. Toby had sought out a ‘friendly visitor’ relationship so that her boys could connect with the senior generation. Noah, who is four and a half, and his three-year-old brother Jesse have close relationships with their grandparents but geographic distance keeps them apart. Connecting with Bella fills a gap.
Bella too had found something missing from her life. She has a very full and active life at JCHE. But with her adult sons and their families out of state, she has only limited opportunities to be with family. Like Toby, she too raised two sons. Spending time with the Kumins gives her a chance to enjoy these youngsters while reflecting on many wonderful memories.
Bella was initially concerned that the children would not understand her. Born in the former Soviet Union, her English speaking skills are relatively newly acquired. Luckily, the boys are very comfortable interacting with her. In fact, on a previous visit, Noah pointed out numerous objects and asked Bella to name them in Russian as he attempted to echo her. Rather than viewing the unfamiliar language as a barrier, Noah is curious and wants to know more.
Toby is very pleased with how the relationship has grown. She has watched as her sons increasingly reach out to Bella to play a game, answer questions or show her a treasure. Their level of ease with older adults is apparent as they walk through JCHE’s corridors. The residents light up as the boys approach and the boys happily respond to the attention.
Even after the Kumins and Bella say good-bye for the day, the boys are still thinking about the experience. They ask Toby questions: why do the seniors live in this building; what is their life like; what are their favorite activities? Toby finds that they are gaining so much. “It’s great exposure for them to see how people can age gracefully and with joy with lots of friends around.”