By Judy Wakefield
---- — The way they see it, they’ll soon be romping in a giant, hip sandbox where the big kids get to play with the younger kids. And the older folks couldn’t be more excited about the invitation.
When the new Andover Youth Center is completed next year, the town’s teenagers and seniors will be sharing a hangout space, opening the door for all kinds of collaboration.
And the fact that the new youth center is being built behind Doherty Middle School — just steps away from the Center at Punchard (formerly Andover Senior Center) on Whittier Court — means that the two generations will be seeing a whole lot more of each other.
In anticipation of having that shared connection at the new center, the two groups have been getting to know each other a little better by spending some quality time together this summer.
“All along, we’ve said it will be community space,” Andover Youth Services Director Bill Fahey said of the new youth center. “We want to be good neighbors.”
Just a week after the Youth Center Building Committee announced an Oct. 7 start date for construction, Andover Youth Services took a group of seniors kayaking and canoeing on Foster’s Pond and then hosted an intergenerational picnic at its current headquarters on Pearson Street.
Jane Gifun of Andover, who leads the Women’s Outdoor Adventure Club at Punchard, said last week’s get-together was the kids’ idea.
“They want to get to know us and we were thrilled,” Gifun said. “We are very excited to be boating and interacting with the youth of Andover. It’s a fun experience for all of us.”
Gifun said nine women “from their 50s to into their 80s” signed up to paddle and picnic with their younger counterparts on Friday, Aug. 16.
“Someone said it’s like the big kids playing with the little kids and everyone gets along. We just love having the opportunity to do this,” Gifun said.
Kathy Urquhart, the director at the Center at Punchard, said the intergenerational concept is not new to Andover, which has always sought to foster relationships among the various age groups.
“We have always had a good dialogue with AYS,” Urquhart said.
Fahey agreed, saying the local seniors have supported local teens for years. Older residents are some of the biggest contributors at all AYS fundraisers, he said.
“They (seniors) buy their Christmas trees at our lot every year, donate money at our fundraisers and always support us at Town Meeting,” Fahey said. “They are very supportive of us, so the picnic and kayaking was a good way for us to come together.”
The relationship is expected to only grow stronger once the 21,000-square-foot youth center is built.
The project goes out to bid Monday, Aug. 26. Bids close Sept. 6 and the contractor hiring is set for Sept. 23. The hope is to see the new youth center welcoming the community sometime in October 2014.
The Center at Punchard, which is busting at the seams, plans to use the new youth center during the school day when the teens are in class as way of accommodating its growing slate of boomer and senior programming. There’s also the hope that both age groups can team up on some collaborative activities and classes, with one generation perhaps lending their expertise to the other in areas where they have more experience or understanding, such as computers,
“It’s so close to us, so good for us,” Urquhart said of the new youth center site. “We are very much looking forward to enjoying the space, too.”