'Bubble of joy' born when young meet old at Keswick Teens, oldsters find they learn from each other.

December 13, 1991|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Evening Sun Staff

Mary Nixon, a 63-year-old stroke victim, is aglow.

She sits at a table in her wheelchair at Keswick Adult Day Care in Baltimore, surrounded by youth and loving it.

Sophomore girls from Western High School have come to visit, part of a school-sponsored project to bring young people together with older people.

They talk with her about the days when she was 15 years old, and they cut pictures out of magazines to make a poster illustrating her interests and personality.

And they bring on a stream of bright recollections from a person who a few months ago was still shaking off the aftereffects of her stroke.

"It's like a bubble of joy comes out of my heart," Nixon says of the girls' visit. "I'd never been to any place like this until I had a stroke. I can't hardly wait to get here in the morning."

Meanwhile, the project has led more than one student to revise her view of what it means to be four or five decades older.

Adrienne Street, a sophomore at Western, worked with Ozielee Filmore, 75, and was stunned by the older woman's verve.

"We didn't expect her to be as lively as she was," Street says. "She was talking, joking, getting fresh with men. No matter how old you are, you can still touch people's lives in a certain way."

"I really enjoyed all of them," says Filmore, who raised children of her own. "It's very good that you can have somebody that knows how to talk to you the way a person should."

That interaction is just what organizers of the project hoped for when they decided to bring teen-agers into contact with older people who have some impairment.

"For our folks, it's a wonderful opportunity to spend some time with a younger person," says Beth Lebow, a social worker at Keswick. "They're teaching the young people. They're teaching them about their experiences."

The project was the brainchild of Barbara Gudenius, a 10th-grade English teacher and department chair at all-female Western High School.

Gudenius had been looking for ways to expand on a literature unit involving youth and aging. She hit on the idea of having students visit an adult day-care facility and get to know some of the clients.

Lebow was delighted with the idea, seeing it as a valuable therapeutic tool for day-care clients. She visited Western to brief students about the normal aging process, and to explain conditions such as Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

"No one comes here unless they have some disabilities," says Lebow. "The healthy senior goes to the senior center."

But she adds that "even though they have serious cognitive deficits . . . they can still use parts of their brain." Time spent chatting with teen-agers about the past is "failure free. It's about what they can do; they can remember the past."

And the project has helped build bridges between the generations, says Gudenius.

"Many teen-agers don't think older people like them," says the Western High School teacher. "It's broken down their fears of the elderly."

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