Generations keep in step at prom

Social: The Senior Senior Prom gives Sunrise Assisted Living residents and Atholton teens a chance to mingle.

April 25, 2001|By Laura Dreibelbis | Laura Dreibelbis,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The women were decked out in their best dresses, corsages and a few hats - one was white with black polka dots accompanied by a matching outfit. The men wore suits and military uniforms. They danced, they talked, they ate and they laughed as teens from Atholton High School mingled with residents of Sunrise Assisted Living Community at the fourth Senior Senior Prom.

"It really and truly connects the circle of life," said JoAnn Dols, director of community relations for Sunrise, where residents range in age from 29 to 99. The prom is one of several academic and social activities each year involving Atholton students and Sunrise residents as part of an intergenerational partnership program between the two institutions.

Many of the kids don't usually have a chance to interact with the elderly, Dols said. Atholton's National Honor Society sponsor, Gloriann Mehlman, agreed. A number of residents don't have relatives close by, and many of the students have little regular contact with the elderly, they said.

"It's a great experience for everybody," said Mehlman, noting that teens and senior citizens are a little hesitant at first. But once they get going, she said, they like it.

Monday's prom was no exception. Students and residents stayed in separate groups at first, but as the evening progressed, many loosened up and began to dance. Both groups now look forward to the event each year, she said.

Attending events such as the prom makes residents "aware that they still have involvement in life," Dols said. Some residents have learned how to use e-mail from the students.

The young people get firsthand lessons in aging gracefully and personal history lessons from the senior citizens. Earlier in the year, students discussed the Depression with residents while studying John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath."

The prom was organized by students from Atholton's National Honor Society, who spent Monday afternoon decorating Sunrise with red, black and silver stars to complement this year's theme, "Hollywood Stars."

Members of the Atholton JROTC attended the dance in uniform, a choice that pleased several of the older women.

Sixteen-year-old John Lawall, who was attending for the first time, acknowledged being a little nervous but guessed he would calm down once he started dancing. Within minutes a resident took John's hand and led him to the dance floor.

Atholton's String Orchestra and Jazz Band provided musical entertainment as residents - in wheelchairs, using walkers or independently mobile - tapped their hands and feet to the music.

Fran Medicus, 84, danced early and often in one of her daughter Sue's flowered prom dresses. Medicus preferred the orchestra's classical music selections but was on her feet each time the band started a song. Her only complaint, as she covered her ears, was that the music was "too damn loud."

Her son Tom and daughter Sue Medicus, and Sue's children, Don and Anna Berry, accompanied her. Sue said it was good for kids to see elderly people.

Nearby, Edith Schoenberg, 83, led the band while director Lee Stevens stood to the side. Schoenberg moved him aside four years ago, said Stevens, and has been directing ever since. Shoenberg played cello and piano during her youth in the orchestra at Yale and "loves the music."

Near the conclusion of the evening, a drum roll sounded and a king and queen were crowned, selected from names drawn from a basket. Larry Schultz, 80, and Dorothy Brannock, 81, received the honors and were serenaded by a saxophone solo as they danced. Brannock then danced with JROTC member Scott Tsikerdanos, 18, while a passing resident commented that Dorothy was always dancing with the men.

"I love to dance with everybody," said Brannock.

Tsikerdanos - the best one on the floor, according to one resident - called the prom a great event. He said he enjoyed the mix of young and old.

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