Nannie Berry Elementary School fifth-grader Braylinn Bunch holds the book tight and then opens it wide for her host to see.
“Have you ever heard of ‘Frozen?’” she asks.
He admits he hasn’t.
“It’s about a girl and her sister and the power of looove,” she says, stretching out the last word like a musical note held by one of the characters in the movie by the same name.
Although he chuckles a little, it’s unclear if he’s laughing at what the young girl said or if he’s just enjoying the attention he’s receiving.
“I can’t hear very well,” the Korean War veteran admits to a reporter.
“But that’s OK, I’m sure having a good time.”
And he wasn’t alone.
John Yambrick was one of more than 200 members of the Senior Citizens of Hendersonville, Inc., to mingle recently with members of Nannie Berry’s Student Leadership Club.
The center invited the club of more than 90 fourth-and fifth-grade students to share sandwiches and conversation on a recent Monday. Students also brought books and games, made friendship bracelets for the seniors and sang to them.
The mixer was several years in the making, according to Senior Center Executive Director Julie White.
“I’ve been wanting to do something like this for quite a while,” said White who has held her position for a little more than three years. “One of my initial goals was to be more involved in the community and partner with schools because children can teach older people a lot and vice versa.”
The center, located on Imperial Boulevard, receives less than half of its funding from local, state and federal sources, as well as from the United Way of Sumner County. The balance comes from fundraisers and the support of local businesses, civic and community groups.
There are currently more than 900 senior citizens – defined as those who are 50 years or older – who utilize the center’s resources, according to White.
Senior Center board member and volunteer Kandie G’Francisco said she and other members enjoyed interacting with the Nannie Berry students.
“I think it’s great,” she said. “We’re bringing young and old together for mutual understanding - and just pure fun. For many, it brings them happiness because they don’t get to see their own grandchildren as often as they would like to.”
The elementary school’s Student Leadership Club started around three years ago in order to expose students to more community-based activities, according to NBE Assistant Principal Karen Walters.
“We’re growing our future leaders,” she said.
Around 97 students are involved in the club, and more than 90 attended the recent luncheon at the senior center.
Walters said that students benefit from events like this in several ways.
“I think it helps them with their conversation skills – just learning to appreciate and converse with people they don’t know,” she said. “Also, some of these kids don’t have older role models or grandparents nearby.”
White said that senior center members were still talking about the event days later.
“Everyone was talking about how special it was,” she said. “They were all in awe of what the children did.”
White hopes to use the event as a model to invite other schools to the center.
“Even though the seniors and children are years apart, they have so much in common,” she said. “There’s just so much they can teach each other.”