Bridging Generations seeks to connect young and old

William Potts, Senior Staff Reporter

It is the Saturday of Krewe du Vieux. Instead of plastic Mardi Gras beads, though, Tulane senior and co-president of Bridging Generations Natasha Topolski holds a plastic bingo sheet.

Bridging Generations, a service organization rebranded and expanded in the fall of 2015, aims to foster relationships between Tulane students and seniors in the New Orleans community. The group works with six local assisted living facilities to plan events and engaging activities for the residents, including coffee and doughnut socials, jewelry making and bingo.

Topolski stands in the center of a white room in Unity Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in downtown New Orleans. While Topolski may not be spending her Saturday afternoon like other Tulane students, and she may be much younger than anyone else in the room, she still has a huge smile on her face after she calls out the next number.

“Bingo!”

An elderly woman in a dark blue jacket wheels her chair around as she looks to Topolski with hopeful eyes. It was a false alarm though, one of the plastic sliders had accidentally slid to cover an uncalled tile, and Topolski and the woman laugh at the mix-up as they continue with the game.

Lynette Burrows, the activities assistant at Unity, has had an opportunity to see Bridging Generation’s positive impact over the last few years.

“The residents are always excited on Saturday before the Tulane students come; they’re always sitting back [in the bingo room] waiting for them at noon,” Lynette said. “When Tulane was on vacation break, everyone here missed the students.”

Topolski and sophomore Co-President Hanan Rimawi, with the help of sophomore Vice President Rebecca Wang, spearheaded the organization. Bridging Generations expanded upon Project Grandpeople, an organization Topolski joined during the spring of 2013 that worked with Unity.

For Topolski, seeing her grandmother’s own experiences at an assisted living facility inspired her in part to co-found Bridging Generations.

“In the facility, she often felt isolated and without purpose,” Topolski said. “Our visits and the activities that the facility hosted gave her something to look forward to and became an incredibly important part of her life.”

Though Rimawi is the younger of the two co-presidents, she by no means lacks experience when it comes to assisted living facilities. As a native to the New Orleans area, her first volunteer opportunity arose the summer before seventh grade, at the local Our Lady of Wisdom Nursing Home.

“My first day I was a little uncomfortable because this environment was so wildly different from what I usually experienced,” Rimawi said. “But then I started meeting people, and that is what kept me going.”

Seven years later, Our Lady of Wisdom is one of the six facilities that Bridging Generations now partners with, and Rimawi can still be found there most Friday afternoons during her weekly literary club.

Rimawi and Topolski both hope that the efforts of their organization can help start a trend of increased elderly outreach on college campuses. By offering a mix of consistent volunteer opportunities and more relaxed events, the pair believes it will make volunteering much more accessible to Tulane students.

Back at Unity, one man has seemingly hit a winning streak. Topolski hands him a Russell Stover sugar-free coconut chocolate for the third time that afternoon.

Tony Tejada, a 52-year-old former civil claims investigator who was born in the Dominican Republic and grew up in New York City, now performs a secret handshake he has with Natasha to celebrate the win.

“I did good today, I won a regular game [of bingo] and corners,” Tejada said. “I love it when you all come, and when Lynette calls the numbers, I never win.”