VALLEY DISPATCH PHOTOS/GAYLE SIMONE
Stephanie Servideo and her partner Bernie Brown shake hands after winning a hand of 45’s. Ciara Messineo, back, hangs her head in defeat.
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METHUEN — Most people consider adopt-a-grandparent programs to consist of visits to hospitals, nursing homes and rehabilitation centers, but that’s not the case with Methuen High School’s program.

Every Wednesday for the past five years, MHS students have gone to the Methuen Senior Activity Center to play 45’s with the elderly in the community.

“The beauty of this program is once we walk into this room, there’s no social or age distinction,” said Jeff Bellistri, an English teacher and the program’s faculty adviser.

Bellistri said the program began in the fall of 2002 when a couple of students wanted to have something else to put on their college applications. After the first year, the program just took on a life of its own.

“It started off pretty small, just a handful of students and a handful of seniors,” Bellistri said. “And the second year, it just blew up. I didn’t know what to do with myself.”

The program now has 30 to 50 students enrolled, but because of sports and other after-school activities, not all the students attend each week’s festivities. An average of about 19 students attend each week.

Phil DeSantis said he joined the program when he was a junior and heard some of his senior friends talking about it.

“To tell you the truth, I originally got involved for stuff to put on my college applications,” DeSantis explained. “But I really enjoy coming. I think it’s nice. We can have fun and talk. When it comes down to it, we’re not all that different.”

DeSantis said his experience has gone further than just playing cards with the seniors. “We came once and there was some sort of dance going on,” DeSantis said. “I got dragged into the middle of the floor and was taught all these old school dances. It was a good time.”

Leo Kirane was one of the original seniors to attend the event and said the kids have as much of an impact on the seniors as the seniors have on them.

“Unfortunately, a lot of seniors have negative stuff going on in their lives,” Kirane said. “But the kids make them forget about it with every day conversation.”

For Charlotte E. Blood, playing cards with the kids keeps her on her toes. “They’re young and refreshing,” Blood said. “They are more daring in the play than we are. They’ll bid high and it makes the game more exciting.”

Bellistri said the purpose of the program is the familiarity the seniors feel with the students. “The seniors see the same faces every week,” Bellistri said. “The program works because of the intimacy and if that element is taken away it just doesn’t work.”

He also added the program is an extension of what he teaches in his classroom. “I don’t want them to be just good students,” Bellistri said. “I want them to be good people, responsible members of the community. It gives me an opportunity to practice what I preach.”

Rob Soucy said it’s a great way to spend a Wednesday, and the group’s motto speaks for itself. “The eyes of the past meet the eyes of the future,” Soucy said. “It’s a great way to meet people. This is somewhere I want to be.”

The group has grown so much over the past five years that Bellistri said he has a group of two to five students who visit the Methuen Health and Rehab Nursing Home every day of the week.

Have a story idea? Gayle Simone can be reached at 978-970-4838 or by e-mail at gsimone@thevalleydispatch.com.