Eighth-graders make seniors their valentines Students stage holiday party at center for elderly

February 14, 1993|By Dolly Merritt | Dolly Merritt,Contributing Writer

The brightly decorated room, swathed in red and pink crepe paper, was crowded. But the dance floor was bare -- until Cooper Bright, 84, could no longer resist the tune of "Toot-toot Tootsie Goodbye."

The vintage song was played by the Musicmakers, a five-piece band of senior musicians, Columbia residents, who specialize in old-time favorites.

When Mr. Bright and his 13-year-old partner started dancing, other couples joined, crowding the floor like a high school gym on prom night.

Only this time, the dance floor was at the Florence Bain Senior Center and the occasion was a Valentine's Day dance for seniors, planned and coordinated by about 80 eighth-graders from Harper's Choice Middle School.

After three weeks' worth of making Cupids, hearts and paper flowers, the students spent last Wednesday at what has become an annual party for the seniors from the senior center and the Winter Growth Adult Day Care Center, both of which are next to the Columbia school.

The students escorted each guest to the party, some with walkers, some in wheelchairs through a flower-studded archway. Other students carefully straightened the pink and white carnations that were pinned to every shoulder.

Trays full of student-made frosted cupcakes and cookies, some specifically prepared with no sugar for diabetics, were served.

"The students voted to do this," said Julie Kayser, the jobs program coordinator at Harper's Choice Middle who helped the students coordinate the event. "During the initial planning stages, the student government showed a three-minute clip of last year's dance, and this year's eighth-graders responded willingly," to produce the third annual Valentine's Dance.

The first dance was in 1991 after Barbara Bednarzik, housing director at the Winter Growth center, read about a similar project. "I approached the activity coordinator and Julie Kayser at the school to see if the eighth-grade could get involved and it took off from there," said Ms. Bednarzik.

In addition to serving on various committees to decorate, set up tables and chairs, escort seniors to the event and make and serve refreshments, students volunteered to be dance partners.

"At first, I thought the music was kind of weird," said Megan Thompson, 13. "But, since I've been dancing, I've gotten used to it and I like it."

Her classmate, Dori Gavigan, 13, also admitted to some apprehension at first. "I felt embarrassed in the beginning, until everyone started joining in, but then it was fun," she said.

Such anxieties were left behind when young feet more accustomed to grooving to rap music joined forces with seasoned toe tappers who were more familiar with the Hokey Pokey, Bunny Hop and the Alley Cat.

At the front of the Bunny-Hop line dance was Cleopatra House, an 81-year-old Columbia resident who has been playing piano at Winter Growth for eight years as a volunteer. "I thought I couldn't dance because I have fallen a couple of times recently, but they make you dance," she said, kicking off her red high-heeled shoes in favor of a more comfortable pair she had brought just in case.

Although John Ross, 77, resisted the attempts of a friend to wheel him out onto the dance floor, a student eventually persuaded him. Mr. Ross couldn't help but move his wheel chair rhythmically to "Has Anybody Seen My Gal."

Twins, Kerry and Troy Fitzgerald, 13, admitted they were hesitant in the beginning. "When I came here, I was very nervous and wasn't sure that I would dance," Kerry said. "But then someone asked me if I wanted to dance. Once I started, I had fun."

Allison Webb, 13, sporting a shiny red heart on her cheek and a pair of heart-shaped earrings, said she was perfectly at ease.

"Today is a chance for them to have a fun time. . . . They may be older but they are people," she said.

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