Leonard Bolz, 62, heads straight for the trampoline to jump "double dutch" with 20-year-old Dana Carpenter. Mary Brasfield, 61, slips on her "lucky sneakers" and roars off to the bowling alley with 30-year-old Linwood Heath.
Less active, but no less enthusiastic, are 75-year-old Alton Noch and 25-year-old Debra Hoffman, who hold hands and laugh their way through a sing-a-long rendition of "The Old Mill Stream."
It's a typical Saturday morning at the University of Maryland's Adults' Health and Development Program, where young students and volunteers spend the morning playing, talking and having fun with seniors two, three, and four times their age.
"We use playful activity and social interaction to improve the physical and emotional well-being of the older people," says program director Dan Leviton, 48. "At the same time we provide a clinical training environment for students studying disciplines like gerontology, psychology and social work. f
"But we like to think of it," adds the health-education professor with a grin, "as an intergenerational love-in."
Leviton's interest in physical fitness and "death-education" counseling for the elderly and terminally ill gave him the idea for the program in 1970.
"One of the predictors of life satisfaction and successful aging is good health, activity and friendships," he says. "If you're active, you're alive and your morale will be higher. I wanted to translate gerontology theory into action."
Leviton's plan uses "a country-club approach" with trained students and faculty as "staffers" and older adults from the community as "members."
The once-a-week program begins with an hour of staff training, followed by 90 minutes of one-on-one activity with members -- ranging from creative dance or brisk walking for the less active to swimming, tricycling, trampolining and bowling for the robust. For the final hour staff and members discuss topics such as loneliness, communication and senior sexuality.
This semester, about 60 staffers and 60 members met at the University's student union for nine Saturday mornings. Members came from the nearby community, or as far away as Annapolis. They ranged in age from 55 to 87 (average age 67) and represented a variety of ethnic groups, income categories and degrees of health and well-being.
Half were first-time participants and half have been in the program for more than one semester. A major focus, says Leviton, is intergenerational friendship and affection.
"When people play together, closeness follows. Play not only contributes to improving body image, self-concept and preceived health, but can remove or reduce negative stereotypes of people, regardless of age, ethnic background or social-economic status.
"It is also a means towards staffer-member mutual conseling, when both parties share, confide and help one another resolve personal conflicts and problems with living."
When Leviton first proposed the program he met with incredulous opposition. "They said people will get hurt or people will have coronaries," he recalls. "But in eight years there hasn't been a single injury."
Today the program receives high praise -- both from participants and from organizations such as the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education and Recreation.
"This group has been a big lift for me," says trompoliner Bolz, who joined the program three years ago in anticipation of retiring from his job as a physicist. "I'm learning quite a bit from the younger people. It turns out younger and older people have similar problems.
"Older people are losing spouses and friends and younger people are trying to team up with people.
"Plus, I'd never jumped on a trampoline before. It's great fun."
"Knowing Leonard has given me a very positive outlook toward aging," adds his staffer Dana Carpenter. "As long as you stay active and in touch with people there's no such thing as getting old."
"I just retired and I wanted to find something to take up my time and restructure my life," says Mary Brasfield, who hadn't picked up a bowling ball in years. "I wanted to associate with some older people, but with younger people, too. I can't stand seeing nothing but elderly. This is a terrific mix."
"This is the one time in the week that I really relax," says her staffer Linwood Heath, who gets up at 4:30 a.m. to drive in from Mechanicsville.
"I get a lot of love and a lot of family here," adds volunteer Debra Hoffman. "I'm away from home, so it's nice to come to a place where I'm not afraid to hold someone's hand or talk about personal things."
"It's a social and a fun thing for me since I live alone," adds her member Alton Noch. "I've learned a lot about health, too."
"The thing I like best is the discussion groups," says member Florence Henkel. "I like young folks and old folks exchanging ideas together, and I enjoy being able to air my thoughts."
The program's major problem is funding, admits Leviton. With the exception of Rockville seniors who ride a bus donated by the city, all other members must provide their own transportation, which has cut participation in half from a high of 120.
Although the fee for members is $30 a semester, Leviton is liberal with "scholarships" and most members pay about $10 a semester. In an attempt to raise funds, and celebrate the end of the semester, the program is inviting interested persons to attend a ball from 7 to 11 p.m. Sunday in the Fort McHenry Room of the university's Adult Education Center. Cost is $15 per person or $10 for students or seniors.
Last year's ball was a social success, but a financial failure. "But if we can serve as a catalyst to involve the university with the community," says Leviton, "it's worth the loss."