Budding Biographers Quiz Seniors
June 19, 2014
By Sandra Coopersmith
"Getting to know you, getting to know all about you . . ."
As my fellow volunteers and I waited in Room B47 of the Culver City Senior Center on May 22 for a group of 18 students from Inglewood's Oak Street Elementary School to complete a tour being given by Jill Thomsen, the center's Volunteer Specialist, that song from "The King and I" kept running through my head.
Why? Because we would soon be partnering up with our new young friends, thanks to the collaborative efforts of LEAP (Learning Enrichment After-School Program) and the Culver City Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department.
The mission of LEAP, a 501(c)(3) organization, is, at no cost to parents, to develop the critical thinking skills of students from under-served communities by delivering engaging after-school experiences. This biography project was created so students could pair up to interview senior partners at the center, returning June 12 with written biographies.
Following the tour, Liomartin, 11, and Andres, 10, both fifth-graders, quickly commandeered my table. My first impression, which never wavered, was of friendliness, curiosity, energy and enthusiasm.
As the interview proceeded, I could see that a couple of my answers clearly were foreign to their worldview. For example, being childless evoked consternation. My explanation that I was single didn't cut it since "lots of ladies have babies."
Furrowed brows greeted the revelation that I had no siblings. "Why?" was Liomartin's incredulous rejoinder. Andres quickly interjected, "You'd have to ask her parents that."
Other questions mostly dealt with my age and favorite game, sport, movie, superhero, color, relative, subject in school, food and book.
I learned something about the boys as well. They love a card game called Speed that requires fast reflexes. Mine are pretty torpid and I'm not a card player. Give me Scrabble or a crossword puzzle and I'm a happy camper. But these boys are into action and activities requiring physical dexterity.
Fortunately, we could relate on sports, and quite a discussion ensued about the Lakers and Kobe's chances for another ring. Andres was so enamored of basketball that he wants to be a professional basketball player. "The person that inspires me is Kevin Durant because he is loyal to his team," he said. "He makes amazing shots and he always tries his best at all his basketball games. He is also the MVP of the league."
Liomartin's favorite sport is dodgeball "because you have to be quick." That's another activity that would find me in the ER, although I redeemed myself by mentioning the archery medal I received in college. I brought hockey into the conversation – after all, I'm from Canada – but it didn't grab them. I decided to try again at our next meeting.
I would also then change my cop-out response to the question about my favorite book. My mind had gone blank, so I'd answered that I read a lot and enjoy many books. As I thought about it that night, what surfaced was the Freddy the Pig books that captivated me as a child when I first started going to the library in the 1940s.
They're about a group of animals living on a farm. They can talk to humans when they choose and have numerous adventures. Freddy, the smallest and cleverest of the pigs, even has his own detective business. The books are fun, unusual, contain ingenious plots and reflect the social conditions of the times.
Getting back to our first meeting, certain questions made me think of Barbara Walters, who was lampooned for years for supposedly asking Katharine Hepburn, "If you were a tree, what kind would you be?" In truth, Hepburn had said she would like to be a tree and Walters merely followed up by asking what kind.
The boys went a step further by initiating these atypical queries, a veritable verbal Rorschach test:
"What's your favorite finger?" Huh? After a moment, I responded, "My thumb, because it's important to show appreciation and offer a 'thumbs-up' when someone does a good job. And it's great to be on the receiving end as well."
"What's your favorite letter of the alphabet?" Oh, my . . . "X," I answered, "because life is all about the experiences we have, each one offering a learning opportunity, and I find that exciting."
"What's your favorite number?" I didn't have to think. "One," I promptly replied, "because everything starts with oneself, with our self-awareness, and grows from there. And we are all connected."
Intriguing questions! Take a moment and ponder, how would you have responded?
On June 12 it was great to see the boys again and welcome their friend, Anthony, who had decided to join us.
In addition to bios, the volunteers received charming personally decorated keepsake boxes and mementos. Since a crafts activity was part of the agenda, we were shown how to make flower pens, following which all the students gathered at one end of the room to entertain the volunteers with a surprise dance performance – and they really knew how to bust the moves!
When my three boys returned to the table they decided to teach me the Pokémon card game. Considering all the strategizing they were doing, they may well become titans of finance. I tried, but just couldn't master the intricacies.
But otherwise I did well because they expressed curiosity about the Freddy the Pig books and also agreed to root for the Kings, who were playing Game 5 for the Stanley Cup the following day. Who knows, maybe their good wishes contributed to that extraordinarily magnificent championship win. Go, Kings! And they sure did.
Upon leaving, the students were surprised and delighted to receive colorful lap robes created by the center's crochet group.
Judging by everyone's smiles, LEAP, the students, Jill Thomsen and my fellow volunteers (Sharon Elstein, Maureen "Mo" DeKoff, Toby LoPresti, Ilene Cohen, Alice Jackson, Janet Rohrbacher, June Davis), all contributed to an experience meriting a hearty and heartfelt thumbs-up.