Western Maryland College sophomores find affinity in serving nursing home

February 16, 1994|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,Contributing Writer

When a group of Western Maryland College sophomores were looking for a community service project last fall, none of them had to look much further than their own families for an idea.

The eight women, half of them from out of state, realized they either had no living grandparents or lived so far away that they don't get to see grandmother and grandfather often enough.

"And a lot of older people [in nursing homes] don't have a lot of visitors, so it would help us both," said Denise Sarver, group manager, who comes from Bel Air.

Thus was born the Adopt-A-Grandparent project, which turned into the adoption of an entire nursing home for the group.

"We set up a link with the Westminster Nursing and Convalescent Center," Miss Sarver said. "We wanted to specialize in just one nursing home so we could get to know the people."

Adopt-A-Grandparent is part of the college's Affinity Housing Program, in which groups of students propose a community service project and apply for "special interest" housing.

Groups must have an adviser and proposal to take to the college's housing committee. If approved, the group gets a suite of rooms with space for all members.

"You have to keep up your activities, fill out a form every month, then each year you have to go through the whole process to keep your affinity housing," Miss Sarver said.

The students turned to Helen Wolfe, a professor of education who had taught several of them, to be their adviser.

"Hopefully, the proposal is something for the faculty member to get something out of," Dr. Wolfe said. "Picking me seemed like a good linkage."

With the blessing of the Westminster Nursing and Convalescent Center's activities director, Debbie Frank, the women started visiting the center's residents last fall.

The group tries to focus visits around a holiday or special activity for the residents. At Christmas, for instance, they spent a Sunday decorating the nurses' station and hallways and played games with residents.

Dr. Wolfe went along for the Christmas visit and saw how the students and residents interacted.

"It's a great linkage for the students and for the people at the other end who don't get to see their family or grandchildren," Dr. Wolfe said. "They were really appreciative of the students coming in."

Even though it was exam time in December, the students made their nursing home visit a priority and all showed up, the adviser said.

"It was a good escape," said Callie Thompson, a group member from Ambler, Pa. "The people are really funny; one lady kids around with us. We weren't sure how they would take us, but they opened up and had fun with us."

The students are thinking of new activities to do with the residents, such as playing a "life review" game that would encourage the elderly to talk about themselves, their careers, families, lifetime.

"We'd like to have a senior-sophomore dance with the kind of music the residents like, if we can get some guys to help us," added Anne Larson, a group member from Darien, Conn.

For February, the students helped serve dinner Monday evening, Valentine's Day. The center prepared a holiday dinner for residents and their spouses only.

"The residents enjoy the girls' presence, and the girls are getting insight into the elderly," Ms. Frank said. "I wish more college students would do this."

The center also has a program for high school students needing to fulfill their community service project, but what the WMC students are doing is strictly voluntary and noncredit. It is the group's initiative and desire to do community service that gets it the affinity housing.

Affinity groups get a small budget from the college for their projects, but members also use their own resources for activities, Dr. Wolfe said.

This particular group also has another goal in mind.

"We want to put up posters and try to enlarge the group," said Miss Sarver. "We'd like to get more people involved."

The group's other members for this year are Sarah McCracken from Woodbine; Kristy Mair from Summersdale, N.J.; Aimee Dickinson of Damascus in Montgomery County; Emily Firor of Franklin, W.Va.; and Julie Cox of Sykesville.

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