Program delights residents and kids SOUTHEAST--Sykesville * Eldersburg * Gamber

YOUNG HUGS FOR SENIORS

March 02, 1993|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

Amanda Gresham makes Thursdays special for Joseph Betz. With perky conversation and gentle concern, the 12-year-old girl brightens the day for the 90-year-old resident of Sykesville Eldercare Center.

She brings him cookies and hugs. For an hour a week, they color or play checkers -- "he always wins" -- and ring-toss games.

"When he gets all four on the ring, I give him a hug," she said.

She puts the games away and helps him move his wheelchair for a stroll down the corridors.

"I brought you some more cookies," she said, raising her voice a little. "He is a little hard of hearing. I have to shout sometimes."

Amanda usually leaves Mr. Betz with a thoughtful gift.

"She brought him a troll Chiapet," said Ruth Dubbert, activities director at the center. "He was thrilled when he got it to grow. She gave him crocuses, too. He showed everyone the blooms."

Amanda and more than 30 classmates at Sykesville Middle School are bridging the generations and becoming friends of residents at the center.

"The residents count the days until the students come," said Fran Kasher, faculty coordinator for the program. "There is a real exchange and sharing of lives."

"I can't visit my own grandparents because they live so far away," said Katie Plummer, 13. "It brings new meaning to nursing homes for me. I always thought they would be scary and depressing places."

Students initiate activities with the residents, said Ms. Kasher.

Jason Pickett, 12, and Richard Powell, 61, share enthusiasm for baseball.

"He is helping me keep up with the Orioles," said Mr. Powell.

The warm welcome from residents overcame the children's initial shyness.

"We were all a little uncomfortable at first," said J. D. Jordan, 12. "Now, they are used to us coming and we like going."

"Now, there is too much to say and do," said Shen Poehlman, 12.

Ms. Kasher presents the program to seventh- and eighth-grade students in the fall. The children, who volunteer, have a training session with Ms. Dubbert. They also visit the 140-bed center and meet some residents before they make an eight-week commitment.

"After a few visits, the seniors and the students really get to know one another," said Ms. Kasher, who has advised students since the program began four years ago. "Some have formed close friendships."

Those friendships often continue, sometimes through holidays and summer vacations, she said.

"They came in with their mothers for a special Valentine's Day visit on a Sunday," said Alma Branhan, 79. "I still have the balloons and potpourri they brought."

Edith Schaefer, 90, moved to Sykesville Eldercare in December. She loves the children, who call her "Edie" and remind her of the children in her own family. The visits have helped her overcome a difficult adjustment, she said.

"It was rough coming here for me, and I spent more than one night crying for my home," she said. "But these children really help. They even brought me cupcakes for my birthday."

"We hung pictures of all her grandchildren on the bulletin board, and we read to her," said Allison Pohlit, 12.

The boys and girls talk fondly about their friends, Edith, Alma and Joseph.

"I like to socialize with older people and see what their experiences were," said Shen.

"I like to do my lady's nails, and I put hearts on them for Valentine's Day," said Katie. "She is very talkative and knows lots."

Katie's lady is Ruth Hurd, who has lived at the center for 20 years. She said the children are a "big help."

Ms. Hurd is a favorite among the children. Many stop into her room for a little visit before their parents pick them up at the center. She said she can "chew the children's ears off" with her chatter.

"The girls tell me about their boyfriends and show me pictures," she said.

"She tells us jokes and makes us laugh," said Allison.

The students make plans for birthday parties and pet visits -- with the center's approval.

"They enjoy our presents and like our company," said Allison. "They love to tell us about their lives. There's one lady there who is 103."

The students work in pairs with one resident, whom they call "our lady" or "our guy."

"We walk our lady up and down the halls, and she tells us about everybody else," said Lauren Carlquist, 12.

The children meet at dismissal on their assigned day and walk together to the center, which is about four blocks from the school.

Shen said all the students would like to do more.

"One man said, 'I want company, too,' and he was almost in tears," she said. "We want to make them happy and help them make friendships with other residents."

The center and Ms. Kasher have extended the eight-week community service project indefinitely. And the young volunteers have enlisted more classmates in the activity.

"We always need volunteers," said Ms. Dubbert.

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