Angela Bronson, a third grade teacher within the Los Angeles Unified School District, piloted an intergenerational program in 1995. Monthly, Bronson brings her class of multi-cultural students, ages 7-9, to the Jewish Home for the Aging (JHA) to interact with their elderly "buddies" aged 70-107. They call themselves the “Mitzvah Munchkins.” With each visit, the students and buddies engage in music, language, games and hand crafts, learning more about each other, life, death, tolerance, love, patience and respect. For many of the residents, these children are their only visitors. Doctors and psychologists on staff have witnessed that since the "Mitzvah Munchkins" program began, the residents are happier, healthier and have longer lives.
Bronson believes that teaching tolerance at a young age, incorporating religious and cultural diversity, respect and cooperation, will help to remove stereotyping and prejudices in their generation and hopefully for generations thereafter. The students are learning valuable lessons on history firsthand; about concentration camps, World War II and NASA. Many of the students' parents join in the monthly visits and have confided that this program has helped them deal with relationships and death in their own families.
The students' experiences have been so positive and impacting, that those who belong to outside groups, such as girl/boy scouts, religious schools and piano classes, have brought their groups to the JHA to share and interact with the residents. Many wonderful relationships have formed and several students and their families have taken their buddies away for the day to share in different activities. Twice a year, the residents are brought to the students' school to visit, have lunch and spend time in the children's environment. The students love to show their buddies off to their schoolmates. Additionally, each year the program presents one major project made by the students for the residents. These mementos have included a quilt, mosaic table, park bench with a quilted cushion, and a collage of photographs, all of which are on display at JHA.
The Mitzvah Munchkin program has been acknowledged in several newspaper articles, and letters from parents of students, children of the residents, and strangers (sparked by the news articles). Beginning with the 1997 school year, Bronson's intergenerational program received a $3,000 yearly grant from the Witherbee Foundation, allowing it to continue its service. These funds pay for bussing the children to the home each month, special supplies, and Kosher lunches for the residents.