Students changed by service Visiting elderly helps behavior NORTHWEST -- Taneytown * Union Bridge * New Windsor * Uniontown

May 13, 1993|By Traci A. Johnson | Traci A. Johnson,Staff Writer

What could have transformed several rambunctious New Windsor Middle School students into patient, caring friends who laughed and joked with aged residents of Carroll Lutheran Village?

It was magic -- "Magic Me."

"You have to see them with the older people. You wouldn't believe it," said Linda Kuhn, a reading resource teacher and co-adviser of the program at the school. "It's like they are different children."

"Magic Me" is a private, nonprofit program designed to encourage students with behavioral or academic problems to stay in school and out of the criminal justice system by engaging them in community service with the elderly.

Twelve New Windsor Middle students began the program Jan. 25 by participating in a weekly class.

One class assignment split the eight students present that day into two groups and called for three members of each group to pretend to be physically impaired. The unimpaired group leader had to maneuver everyone across a desert -- the school cafeteria -- without leaving anyone behind.

The students didn't take it very seriously. The unimpaired person in both groups dragged the quadriplegic member across the floor, leaving the paraplegic and the blind person to fend for themselves.

But as the students engaged this week in an activity with their elderly companions at Carroll Lutheran Village, no one was left alone.

Each student drew a spaceship and helped his partner compile a list of 10 things to take on a move to Mars.

Stephanie Brown drew a fancy spaceship for her partner, 90-year-old Louise Taylor. The craft sat among the stars, with a comet shooting overhead as the ship moved beyond Mars toward the rings of Saturn.

"I like fancy things," Mrs. Taylor said of the elaborate craft. She said she would take a car on her space odyssey.

"I don't know what I'd do without that because I like to go," said Mrs. Taylor. "I'd be in Pennsylvania one day and Virginia the next."

There was some confusion as to what Sophie Reott, 97, wanted to take along. She said "knee-highs;" her partner, 14-year-old Joey Cook, wrote "beehives;" and CLV resident Rachel Garner thought the item in question was "geenives."

"What in the world is 'geenives'?" asked Mrs. Garner, 79, as the several students laughed and

tried to clear up the confusion.

Mrs. Garner decided beehives would be useful on the trip.

"Oh, beehives. That's a good idea. Then you could have honey," she said.

The students said they don't think of their partners as people who need young people's companionship to brighten their lives. They think of them as friends.

"I like it a lot," said Russell Warehime, 14. "I like talking to the people. I volunteer out here every weekend. I visit my great-grandparents here, too."

"I think it is very nice for the young people," Mrs. Taylor said of the program. "I hope they enjoy it," she said.

"I do," said Stephanie, 13, as she finished drawing flames on her comet. "It's fun."

Stephanie asked CLV staff about her "old partner" Sybil Dukehart, a 93-year-old resident who was not able to participate Monday.

"We were together the first couple of visits," said Stephanie. "We became close. I'll probably visit her after the activity."

Mrs. Garner said she enjoys the

children's visits, but believes the program should be structured differently.

"I think it is all right, but I think it is a little many," said Mrs. Garner. "I think it would be nice to quietly share with one another."

Program co-adviser Drista Bowser said the current 12 students will be in the program next year.

The school hopes to add sixth-graders so students can participate during each of their middle school years, said Ms. Bowser, who teaches math.

Lynn Bopp, director of programming for "Magic Me" in Maryland, said that over the program's 12 years, many "at-risk" students have responded well to it.

"When they [the children] see the change that they can bring about in other people's lives, it really affects them," said Ms. Bopp.

There are "Magic Me" programs in 30 cities in the United States, and in Paris and London. The London program was voted the best inter-generational program in Great Britain and received an award from Prince Charles, Ms. Bopp said.

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