Seniors and students stir up a recipe for success

The comforting smells, the flavors and warmth of cookies baking in the kitchen are wonderful memories for older adults. However, in many long-term care environments, that’s what they are—memories. Before making a career change to work with at-risk children in an alternative school, Martha (“Marty”) McGuire worked at a large retirement community, the Palace Royale in Kendall, Fla., on assignment from Miami-Dade County Public Schools. “I enjoyed baking chocolate chip cookies with the residents there every week. So in 1995, I began the ‘Intergenerational Cookie Club at J.R.E. Lee Opportunity School,’” she says. Today, McGuire continues the program at Miami-MacArthur South School, where she is the T.R.U.S.T [To Reach Ultimate Success Together] counselor. “I wanted to give the students an educational activity that would encourage them to change their behaviors,” she explains. 

Each month 10 top-ranking students from the Positive Behavior Support program are selected to participate in a “Cookie Bake,” now held at the Palace Gardens in Homestead, Fla. The dough is prepared by the teens the day before the Cookie Bake. By quintupling McGuire’s recipe, students have a chance to practice their math by figuring how much of each ingredient is needed. “They do the math several times to make sure the calculations are correct,” she explains. The actual dough is mixed in the school’s Culinary Arts program under the guidance of Chef Carroll Harrod.

Rolling out dough helps exercise fingers.The next day, McGuire and her students pack up their supplies of rolling pins, spatulas, cookie cutters, and all the other equipment and supplies that make cookie baking fun, and set off for The Palace Gardens. However, before teens meet and assist the elders at a Cookie Bake, McGuire conducts a class on an aspect of aging in The Palace Gardens’ activity room. Topics include how to speak with an elder, sensory awareness, memory loss and how to assist the residents with the cookie-making process.

After this introductory educational session, the fun begins.  The teens give each person a rolling pin, flour, spatula and a handful of dough. The students help the older “bakers” put on gloves and place a piece of parchment in front of them. “While the Cookie Bakes began with drop cookies, we’ve found that making rolled cookies is more fun and beneficial to the seniors. It is a tactile way for the seniors to be aware of the seasons and time of year, which many of them no longer are in touch with. When they eat a heart- or a turkey-shaped cookie, they connect it to a holiday or season,” says McGuire. Rolling the dough also provides exercise, as does using the cookie cutters. Through a variety of grants, the program has been able to purchase all the necessary baking equipment and a wide variety of cookie cutters to celebrate any occasion.

Cookies are the vehicle through which communication and compassion, the ultimate goals for this program, are reached.  McGuire explains that many of the teens have never had a conversation with an older adult, especially one over 90! They enjoy hearing living history from their senior friends through their life stories and the lessons learned.  Of course, the seniors enjoy the interaction with the students and learning about their young lives—as well as their goals and aspirations.

McGuire and group sign "I love you."“It’s a real win-win,” says McGuire.  “The activity is even tied in with employment opportunities for these at-risk children. On the way home, there’s always a discussion of the various jobs available in long-term care and at facilities such as The Palace. “

Some students have been so motivated to change their behaviors that they have been able to leave the alternative educational environment and return to their regular schools mainly through a commitment to participation in the Cookie Bakes. McGuire is pleased that many former members of the Intergenerational Cookie Club have stayed in touch with her and a number of them now hold jobs in the culinary industry.

For more information on the Intergenerational Cookie Club, email Martha McGuire at

Topics: Activities