Intentional Deep Experiences Across Lifecycles

From the grandfriend perspective

Michael Lavin: An Intergenerational Journey

An interview by Diana Ganger, August 20th, 2018

While visiting his children and grandchildren in Chicago, Michael graciously met me at my home to share his journey as an intergenerational champion and volunteer. A jovial, humble, gracious man confidently entered my home.

I so enjoyed hearing how his background ( Midwest Area Managing Partner of KPMG LLP) prepared him to help Veronica Maravankin, former Director at the Palm Beach Garden JCC, to start an intergenerational program. After sharing a Skype coaching session together with Diana Ganger on how to start such a program, he and Veronica moved quickly to set it up, adding their own wisdom and flavor to the existing process. They formalized the experience by developing written communication and expectations.(see example forms on website).

As a former partner at an accounting firm, Michael was skilled at starting, organizing and managing initiatives. He also had a second career, as he participated on many corporate boards for 15 years. In addition to his corporate board experience, he also served on many not-for-profit boards, including Ravinia Festival, the Chicago Symphony, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Chicago Opera Theater and several others. Upon retiring to Florida, Michael then decided he wanted to serve in a “hands on” way, and was referred by the JCC in Palm Beach Gardens to Veronica who quickly realized his potential and enlisted Michael as her partner to organize an intergenerational program, that had been inspired by the work at Moriah ECE in Deerfield IL.

Michael related that Veronica was excellent at sharing the vision and educational philosophy of the school, and Michael helped her write a prospectus to formalize the program. They both understood systems and communication, and began to share the information with parents, staff, board and the community at large. Most importantly, they were eager to share this with the children; Why was a grand friend [we use the term “Volunteer Grandparent”] joining the classroom? Who was this new person?

Michael shared, “Now that I am retired, I take classes, read more, can luxuriate in reading the newspaper from cover to cover, and play golf and exercise, each three times a week. And, once a week I have the most fun volunteering with the children in the classroom.” “Mr. Mike…that is what the children call me.”


Michael related that he and Veronica wrote a description of the ideal grandfriend. They wanted to make it clear who they were looking for and what it is they would do. Recognizing that this role is not for everybody, they came up with a list of traits and characteristics (e.g. kind, patient, loves children as musts).

Michael and Veronica also wanted people who would be comfortable with the culture of the school: a place that is child-centered, sees each child as unique and capable, and supports children’s curiosity. Michael describes his volunteer work as that of a teacher’s assistant; and says he has learned a lot by listening and watching what the teachers do. He stressed the importance of committing to the children and supporting the teaching staff, to ensure that the focus is on the children. “I try to interact with all of the children by moving around among the groups of children working on different activities”

He emphasized this point, “We had one volunteer who did not work out. She did not respect the privacy of the classroom…and wanted teacher attention, and did not engage sufficiently with the kids.”

Michael and Veronica recruited impressive volunteers. Sheila Schlaggar, who also participated developing the JCC’s program, has been involved since its inception, and was a principal of a gifted program before her retirement.

Michael, Sheila, and Veronica worked together to document and communicate the intergenerational program.

On a personal level, Michael was motivated to join, “My 5 grandchildren live away. I was motivated to do something hands on, and can’t think of anything better than helping children develop and in return I am fulfilled.”

Michael reported that all of the other volunteers have been women, and the program is looking for more men volunteers too. (It is interesting to get this perspective, as at Moriah my experience had been that we had many more men volunteers who had not had a chance to spend time with their children when they were young, as they were busy building their careers).

This year, Michael sent a nice note to 7 or 8 rabbis, telling them about the program and asking them to help recruit (by direct referral and putting an announcement out to their congregations).

Program Structure

Michael described an intentional, consistent program structure.

The volunteer comes to the school once a week, and spend two hours in the (same) classroom. He noted that there were requirements for volunteers such as background checks and medical forms.

The volunteers also meet on a periodic basis to share experiences and learn from one another. The program was very clear that it was asking for a commitment to the children. While travel is understandable, the “children will miss you. We need enough time in order to be in a mutual relationship.” The program was also clear that “what happens in the classroom stays in the classroom.” Volunteers maintain confidentiality with all their relationships in the classroom. While Michael did not sign a confidentiality agreement, he thought it might have been a good idea.

In order to build this mutual relationships as quickly as possible, “I take photos of the children on the first day to help me learn their names immediately.

How does Michael, or “Mr. Mike” spend his time in the classroom?

“I help them with their activities, including art projects, building with tiles and blocks, creating with found objects, doing puzzles, playing dress up, etc. Sometimes I read stories to them, and sometimes I tell them life stories. I share travel stories too. Israel was a big part of the curriculum, (each family took turns to talk about their experiences in Israel). Last year my grandson had his Bar Mitzvah in Masada and I honeymooned in Israel…I brought back pictures, brought little gifts for the children and shared the experiences.”

Why does it make sense to have this program in Jewish ECE?

Reciprocal learning, “I worked with outstanding teachers and have learned an enormous amount from them…I wish I’d known all of what I’ve learned when I raised my children. I watch and observe and it is very educational for me.”

More love all around, “As good as the teachers are, there is a different element when there is someone else there for whom it is not their job. The volunteers do this out of love…the women who have been in the program have all loved the experience; they are so happy they are doing this.”

“Just like a teacher we are there for all the kids…each one has a gift.”

Jewish continuity and identity building, “The whole Jewish experience is family- based, and how do you pass on the L’Dor V’Dor?”

“Miryam asked me to talk about the intergenerational program with the staff at the beginning of the year, and I noticed a lot of the teachers were not Jewish-a quarter or a third…” In an industry where we cannot pay competitive wages, and we are losing special teachers over time, I worry that it may become difficult to sustain quality Jewish early childhood education.

Perhaps the volunteers in the room will be supplementing staff in terms of identity building? “I love the Jewish values embedded in the JCC curriculum. They make it so special… I wonder how it can work with teachers who might not understand holidays? Volunteers are Jewish…we talk about the holidays…share personal experiences…”

Michael relates that he took part in acting out the Pesach story with the teachers, and was Moses.

Relationships enrich classroom culture, “The kids give me gifts, draw me pictures, give me birthday parties…How excited I was that they had decorated the room, made the birthday chair, put streamers up, made cake, and I brought my special brownies…-so touching.”

“I want to get to know every child in the class. I can tell who was having an off day and may needmore time and attention. I try to then reach out and spend one on one time with them. It is so rewarding to help turn their day around; of course, at times I ask a teacher for help yet I felt I can make a difference. I love these children. I greet them and they greet me with big hugs.”

Value added to the early childhood programs and volunteers, “I think value could be added to all early childhood education program… Every community has grandparent age adults who love children, have time, and are looking for meaningful activities…many baby boomers are having trouble- they are living longer and are healthier- how will they spend the time? What will they do?”

Volunteers can spend their time in a meaningful way, and early childhood programs benefit from their presence in the classrooms.

Michael E. Lavin was the Midwest Area Managing Partner of KPMG LLP from 1993 to 2002. Mr. Lavin worked at KPMG from 1967 through 2002. He was a Partner of KPMG LLP from 1977 to 2002. Mr. Lavin was an Independent Director of several companies, including Integrys Energy Group, Tellabs, Education Corporation of America, SPSS, and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association. He served as a Trustee of several not-for-profits, including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Ravinia Festival, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Chicago Opera Thearter, the Economic Club of Chicago, The Commercial Club of Chicago and its Civic Committee, and the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations. Mr. Lavin is a Certified Public Accountant and holds a BBA in Accounting from the University Wisconsin.