EAST LAKE — Chase Mallory could spend every Saturday at the beach or hanging out with friends. Instead, he has spent part of every weekend for six weeks with a man old enough to be his great-grandfather.
Jack Smith, 87, couldn't be happier with the arrangement. Smith stays active at the Allegro East Lake assisted living facility, but after his wife of 64 years died last year, he missed talking with someone. Then Chase came along.
"I'd get lonely sometimes," Smith said. "When Chase comes to visit, we sit and talk or watch football together."
Chase visits Smith as part of a program called Grand Kids, which formed in 2009 under the nonprofit group Our Aim Foundation by Dunedin resident Nisha Mandani, her husband, Raj, and their 14-year-old son, Ishan.
Grand Kids unites youths ages 12 to 18 with residents in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Grand Kids visit adopted grandparents for six weeks, then create journals with pictures, bits of advice received and information on those elders' lives.
On Saturday, the children presented the journals to their adopted grandparents and capped the latest six-week session.
• • •
Chase, 14, says he thinks Smith has indirectly given him advice to follow his dreams. Smith aspired to play professional baseball, but World War II came along.
"He joined the Navy," Chase said. "I think it's great that he served his country, but too bad he never got to play pro baseball."
The enjoyment of time spent together goes both ways.
"It's nice to connect with him," Chase said. "I used to talk to my grandpa, but he passed away a year ago."
• • •
Alba Masterson, 89, says she was just like Rosie the Riveter, the American icon who represented women working in factories during World War II. Masterson said she worked on helicopters, specifically pilots' doors.
She speaks fluent Italian and breaks into a smile if anyone mentions her three sons or her adopted Grand Kids — Erin Leonard, 16, and Jonathan Cisneros, 17, both of Palm Harbor.
"I can't believe all this attention," said Masterson, looking at her journal. "I'm enjoying this so much."
Erin and Jonathan both say it's not goodbye just because the six-week program is over.
"She's 89 and still independent," Jonathan said. "God willing, if I live that long I want to be like that. When I first got into this — come on, we're teenagers — I didn't really expect this to be so much fun. But Erin and I, we love Alba."
• • •
Lyman Ingram, 93, served as a judge in Dyersburg, Tenn., for 42 years. He left the bench about five years ago and moved to Florida to be close to his granddaughter. His sense of humor and singing voice are in tip-top shape.
"Politics is my middle name," said Ingram, who said he was called "Red" most of his life because of his hair color, though it's now white. "These girls are special."
Born in Arkansas in 1917, he attended Cumberland University in Tennessee, where he played the slide trombone and sang in glee club. He told his adopted Grand Kids he did everything in college but study, and still got good grades.
"It's been meaningful and life changing for me," said Narmin Jivani, 14, of Tampa. "When I was little, my grandparents visited all the time. In the past five years, I've seen them maybe once. The older generation has so much wisdom. It's really valuable."
Ingram has plenty to share with Narmin and his two other adopted Grand Kids, Rozmeen Jumma, 17, and Kainat Mitha, 14, both of Tampa.
The judge not only excelled in studies, but also was athletic, winning a heavyweight Golden Gloves championship in 1938.
And he's still popular as ever, being chosen resident of the month at Allegro East Lake in August.
After receiving his journal, he accepted an invitation to sing for the gathering honoring the adopted grandparents. In a deep smooth voice he crooned a verse of Suwannee River.
• • •
Dunedin Mayor Dave Eggers and Commissioner Julie Scales attended Saturday's event to show appreciation for the Dunedin-based program that works to bridge generations.
Founder Nisha Mandani, thanked her special guests at the program.
"Your presence gives our Grand Kids a motivation and inspiration that leaders of our community care and appreciate their voluntary service," she said. "And to our grandparents, it gives renewed commitment that they are not forgotten."