Visits a real treat for kids and elderly

January 05, 1997


Staff Writer

North Hagerstown High School sophomore James Lee admits he was a little apprehensive when he learned his class was going to start visiting a nearby nursing home as a community service project.

"I wasn't really sure about it," said Lee, 15, who said movies he'd seen had painted a dim picture of nursing homes.

That all changed during the first visit in October, he said.

"I liked it. The people were nice," said Lee, who said he doesn't even mind when his new pal, Elizabeth, beats him at her favorite card game - Old Maid.


Lee isn't the only one who looks forward to what have become weekly visits by the class, which includes a dozen students ranging from freshman to senior, said special education teacher Diane Telemko.

"At first, I had to encourage them," but the students became more excited about the project once she got them to imagine themselves in the place of the senior citizens they'd be visiting, she said.

"The students I deal with are very loving and caring; they're just responding well to it."

Telemko said she was looking for a project that would help her students with learning disabilities earn some of their required volunteer hours. Fellow teacher Medea Paul suggested having them visit residents at Coffman Nursing Home.

"I thought it was a neat idea, and a way to use volunteers hours that would benefit them and someone else," said Telemko. She has fond memories of volunteering at a nursing home during college.

Jenny Keadle, activity director at the nursing home, admits she wasn't very excited about the idea when Telemko proposed it.

"I was very skeptical," Keadle said. "I wasn't sure how our residents were going to relate with these students."

But Keadle said she was willing to give it a try, and suggested they start with two visits a month.

Now she finds herself dreading summer vacation, when the students' 50-minute visits won't be part of the residents' Friday afternoons.

"You can just see the love and warmth these students give our residents and vice versa," she said.

Word of mouth has expanded the number of residents coming out to the community room to play games and talk with the young visitors, she said. "I really never dreamed it would escalate to what it is today."

The visits turned weekly at the end of November, Telemko said.

During December, the students hosted a Christmas party for the residents, including refreshments and gifts, she said. It changed the whole meaning of the holiday for the students.

"It was really neat seeing my kids getting excited about getting something special for their person," Telemko said.

Used to helping older people as a volunteer for the Longmeadow Volunteer Fire Department, junior Chris Stratton said he liked the idea of visiting the nursing home from the start.

"My first thought was that it would be kind of neat," said Stratton, 16. "You learn a lot from them. And they'd have people to talk to, not be so lonely."

The visits are an easy way to earn volunteer hours, said senior Sarah Zarp, who likes playing cards and hearing her new friend, Elizabeth, tell stories.

"We talk about what it was like when she was younger," said Zarp, 18, who said she feels very relaxed after the visits.

For sophomore Jeremiah Baker, who lives with his grandparents, spending time with older folks seemed a fun break from schoolwork.

Baker, 15, says he especially likes playing Scrabble with his new friend, Miss Bea, who likes him to talk to her.

When it comes to older people, Baker said he thinks many of his peers don't realize their potential as friends.

"I think they're a lot wiser and more fun," he said.

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