By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
Specializing in Good News
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Photos by Anthony Plascencia/Ventura County Star

Simi Valley seniors form group to read to youngsters

Sept. 10, 2014 Ventura County Star

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. - Mary Brennan can't always spend time with her 16 grandchildren, so she gets her kid fix as a storyteller who reads to preschoolers several times a month.

"I know how much I enjoy my grandchildren, so when I'm away from them, I'll be with as many as I can," said Brennan, 82.

A resident at Vintage Simi Hills senior living in Simi Valley, Brennan is involved with the Vintage Storytellers, a group of women who live there that formed about a year ago.

"Children are so honest. I love that," Brennan said. "They always seem to have a comment like, ‘How come you always wear the same shoes?' "

Five Vintage Storytellers including Brennan recently read at Phoenix Ranch School in Simi Valley, where the youngsters were broken up by age group in two rooms.

Brennan, along with Mim Bromberg, read "The Eye Book" to 2-year-olds as the toddlers played with blocks.

"I just love this. It's a feeling of doing something qualified, something that's just worth doing," said Bromberg, 82.

In another room, 5-year-olds heard stories from Onilee Kilpatrick and Betty Preston as Mary Edwards, 89, the newest storyteller in the group, sat in the middle of the ladies to observe.

"I don't know how much joy I bring to the children, but they bring a lot of joy to me. They are so darling," said Preston, 90, who read the picture book, "An Amazing Snowman."

"And they of course know the books we read to them better than we do. They know them by heart," Preston said. "One time I turned two pages instead of one, and I hear this little voice say, ‘You missed a page.' "

Kilpatrick, 90, read "When I Get Bigger."

"I've always been a very good student," Kilpatrick said. "I read to my own kids, and it just seemed natural to do this."

Amy Brown, principal at Phoenix Ranch School, called the intergenerational effort "phenomenal."

"It's wonderful because it exposes the children to grandparents they hardly see perhaps," Brown said. "This is wonderful for our children; we're very happy to have the seniors here."

Cathie Shultz, preschool director at Phoenix Ranch, agreed.

"It's just wonderful and it's nice for the children," Shultz said. "Plus they're not afraid if they see someone with a walker or a handicap. They're more accepting because they've had experience."

The storytellers were inspired by a women's discussion group at Vintage Simi Hills.

They read at Phoenix Ranch and Garden Grove schools with plans to add the YMCA after-care class at Justin School.

They hope to help dispel the perception of seniors residing in assisted-living facilities, said Florence Trapani, activities director at Vintage.

"Life's not over. It might be in a different form and in a different venue, but life goes on," Trapani said.

"For the residents ... some of them read to their kids and grandkids, and they can continue with these adorable little munchkins. And it's important that they're still getting out. They live in assisted living but they're out in the community."

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