NCW newcomer launches Grandpa Project to connect generations
Our region benefits immensely from people who move here and choose to make contributions to the quality of life in North Central Washington. They strengthen our communities. Recently, I had the privilege of getting acquainted with Rod Brooks, a former marketing executive for PEMCO Insurance who is relocating to the Chelan Valley with his wife following retirement. They’ve had a summer place here for years but are now becoming full-time residents.
In that spirit, he has launched The Grandpa Project, an initiative he’s been working on for the past several years. Recently, he held a Grandpa Camp in Chelan at the Ruby Theater. A dozen grandfathers and volunteer grandpas and their grandkids enjoyed the opportunity to work together to create and fly paper airplanes. The kids made their prototypes and launched them from the balcony of the historic theater towards a target on the stage, Brooks told me. They worked together to refine the performance of the planes.
Brooks, the owners of The Ruby, and his event sponsors gave prizes and high school kids manned a photo booth providing souvenir photos of the kids and their grandpa or volunteer grandpa. What a wonderful relationship-building project. The camp was sponsored in part by Deep Water Home and Electronics, Riverwalk Book Store, and Chelan Senior Center. A lot of kids don’t have grandparents living nearby, and so he considers elders who want to help to be volunteer grandpas.
Brooks started this project after his son pulled him aside one day and noted that in the three previous generations of his family, grandchildren didn’t have a chance to get to know their grandfathers. His son told Brooks that needed to change. Brooks called it a “courageous conversation” and it sparked him to take action. He’s created a website (thegrandpaproject.com) and is working to create opportunities for these important interactions between generations.
All nine of Brooks’ grandchildren visited Chelan this past summer and they made special memories together. “Our dates included fishing, ice cream for breakfast, painting ceramic pottery, bowling, feeding the ducks, and making souvenir T-shirts – the activity was far less critical than the time we spent together,” according to Brooks. With the Grandpa Project, Brooks hopes to inspire others to follow suit. It’s a shame, he said, that our culture treats elders as baggage to be discarded rather than as valuable resources. Many other cultures around the world celebrate and honor elders.
The website is intended to be a place for sharing stories about how seniors and kids connect and make lasting memories together.
Brooks has evolved from someone who was immersed in corporate life and who was not exactly the picture of health. At one point he tipped the scales at more than 325 pounds and was quite out of shape. The now trim and healthy 65-year-old changed his diet, started exercising and enhanced his life.
The project has four goals — encouraging senior men to live healthy lives by eating right and getting exercise; inspiring grandfathers by sharing stories of connection; celebrating men who are making a difference in the lives of kids; and eventually serving men by linking them to resources that will help them use their skills and talents in the community.
Brooks wants people to follow his lead and replicate The Grandpa Project all over the country. He doesn’t want a franchise — he just wants to make a positive contribution in the years following retirement. He sees this effort growing in an organic fashion rather than having a pre-set vision of exactly how it’s going to turn out. I think the best projects work this way.
Brooks is collaborating with Sarah Barnes, co-founder and board member of Thrive Chelan Valley — a Chelan based organization with an established volunteer mentoring program — to create meaningful and safe opportunities for these kinds of efforts. Working with Thrive, he hopes to have seniors visit local classrooms and do workshops with kids using the expertise they have gained from their work and personal hobbies. Grandpas in the classroom is one of several ideas that Brooks has for The Grandpa Project as it matures.
The Grandpa Project does only address part of the generational disconnect that exists. There definitely is room for a Grandma Project to connect grandmothers (volunteer or otherwise) with grandkids, it seems to me. Think about all of the talented seniors in retirement homes who could contribute to our communities. The possibilities are endless.
The Grandpa Project is something that can enrich and enhance the quality of life in North Central Washington and beyond. It’s exciting to see Brooks get this project up and running and he’s agreed to share stories in the pages of The World to help us get the word out.
For more information, check out thegrandpaproject.com.