In response to complaints from older county residents about the complexities of riding Metrorail and the Ride-On bus system, Montgomery County officials announced during their recent "Intergenerational Awareness Week" that they will begin offering a series of "hand-holding" practice rides this summer.
Teen-age volunteers from the Red Cross will assist older riders in the 10 free sessions June 25 through Aug. 1, helping them board a Metro train, travel to a designated stop and transfer to a Ride-On bus.
Participants will learn how to operate Metro Farecard machines and obtain Metro-to-bus transfers. They also will be instructed about routes and where to purchase the discount Metro Farecards available for elderly and handicapped riders. The two-hour session will end with a restaurant luncheon.
The program was developed because older county residents have not been using the mass transit systems in proportion to their numbers in the population, said C. Bennett Connelly of the Department of Family Resources, sponsor of the instructional program.
Older and handicapped residents were calling the county government to complain that they found the bus and train systems confusing and the Metro Farecard machines intimidating, Connelly said. They also expressed fear of going underground to use the subway, he said.
Mass transit is the primary means of transportation for seniors, Connelly said, and "we want them to be comfortable with it. We're going to show them what it's like to go underground" and "let them practice with us."
The program -- and particulary its use of Red Cross youth volunteers -- is one of many efforts in the county promoting interaction between age groups.
The efforts were highlighted during the awareness week the county declared last week, when it recognized about 90 service, recreational, educational and religious programs that bring together people of different ages.
Such programs can "provide young people with positive role models and a linkage to the past" and can give older citizens "an opportunity to serve as vital forces in the lives of our youth," said County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist.
Gilchrist spoke after a sing-along with residents of the Randolph Hills Nursing Home in Wheaton and National Honor Society students from Wheaton High School. The students visit the nursing home regularly to sing, act out skits or serve refreshments.
The nursing home residents' eyes light up when the students visit, said Wheaton High senior Peter Brown, who led the sing-along. "I like making other people feel good, because it makes me feel good," he said.
The visits also are important because "it makes you think twice about your later life," Brown said.
Another Wheaton student, Kathleen VanderLinden, said the visits gave her insight into her future.
"I learned that when I get older I can still be happy, because you can see it in their faces . . .that it's not going to be terrible to get older. I used to feel sorry for them, but they are really enjoying themselves," she said.
In other programs the elderly act as foster grandparents and as volunteer tutors in schools and day-care centers. Students work for a "Pets on Wheels" program, which brings pets to nursing homes.
Montgomery County does not currently run "intergenerational" programs, but last year it established an Intergeneration Committee to advise the county on government involvement.
Two continuing county projects are publishing a directory of the 90 programs and providing nursing home training for student volunteers.
Elderly and handicapped citizens interested in attending one of the Metro and Ride-On training sessions should call the Department of Family Resources at 279-1991.