Story time bridges age gap for center residents


December 15, 2003|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

YOUNG CHILDREN danced, sang and played last week at Millennium Health and Rehabilitation Center in Ellicott City.

Residents of the center watched from wheelchairs and occasionally joined in the fun.

Once the songs were over, the children and their parents took a few moments to visit with the residents.

Some of the children perched carefully on the residents' laps, while others simply held their hands or whispered a few words of shy conversation.

The hourlong scene is repeated week after week in adult care facilities in Howard County. The nursing home story times are the brainchild of Lucille Barnum, who started the program more than 20 years ago when she worked for the Office on Aging.

Her initial goal, Barnum said, was to have the residents read the stories to the children, but it turned out that their voices were not strong enough. So Barnum decided to read the stories herself, and she's been doing it ever since.

The program is no longer funded by the county, so Barnum, 68, donates her time each week for an hour of story and song.

She checks children's books out of the local library and leads her young charges through a round of popular songs before settling down for snacks and then stories.

On the first and third Tuesdays of each month, she goes to Lorien Columbia Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, and on the second and fourth Tuesdays she goes to Millennium.

If there's a fifth Tuesday, she goes to Winter Growth Adult Day Care in Columbia.

"The beauty of the program is the kids interacting with the residents," Barnum said. "It's really a very beautiful, simple program. You need no props."

On a gray Tuesday last week, the program at Millennium began with Barnum leading the children through a series of songs, including "Happy Birthday" in honor of Sam Hightower, who turned 2.

After the songs, children and seniors shared a snack of graham crackers and apple juice before Barnum began reading stories.

Perhaps because of the cold, only five residents were in attendance. Usually, as many as a dozen show up, said Gretchen Haas, the center's director of activities.

She said the program is important because seeing children reminds the residents of their own children and their own childhood.

Parents of toddlers like the program because it puts their children in contact with a population they might not otherwise meet.

"I want them to not be afraid of aging people and people in wheelchairs," said Shannah Mignini, who attended with her daughters, Aleigha, 3, and Mandalyn, "almost 2," as well as Sam.

Virginia Sine, who is pregnant with twins, said she has been taking her 2-year-old son, Lincoln, to story time for about a year.

She's a geriatric nurse practitioner, so she has an appreciation for the older population, she said. And she wants to share that appreciation with her son.

"I think it's important for young kids not to be afraid of older adults," she said. "And I definitely have a love of older adults, and I want [Lincoln] to grow up feeling that way, too."

Liz Roberts couldn't agree more. The Ellicott City resident started bringing her daughter Sarah to nursing home story times when the child was 3 months old.

Now Sarah is in third grade. Sarah's sister, Hannah, attended her first story time when she was 5 days old. She's in first grade now.

Roberts said she devoted so much time to the program because it allows her kids to do a good deed without realizing it.

"The kids have no idea of what joy they are giving to these residents," she said.

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