Saturday, January 24, 2009

Youngsters share talents, hugs with seniors

By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer

From show-and-tell to pet birds, the third graders from Central Texas Christian School are finding they have a lot in common with people more than 10 times their age.
Twice a month, the youngsters visit the residents of Hearthstone Assisted Living Center. It's part of a mission outreach program that's now a decade old.
'I like older people, so I wanted a program that would benefit them,' said Wendy Wolfe, the third-grade teacher who started it.
The visits have turned into an enjoyable experience for all parties involved.
'It's so wonderful because we get to see the kids,' said Ruth Miksch, a Hearthstone resident. 'It's something I enjoy very much.'
So does 8-year-old Taylor Humphrey of Temple.
'We get to come visit and talk and walk in the garden and play with cats,' Humphrey said. 'It's always a fun day when we come to see them.' The Hearthstone activity director, Linda Stevens of Troy, said the children's visits cheer the residents' moods.
'They look forward to it,' Ms. Stevens said. 'As soon as they see it on the calendar, they get excited about it and start smiling.'
Taking place every other Wednesday morning, a typical visit starts in Hearthstone's activity room. Most of the participating residents are already there, waiting for the children. They're alert and refreshed, having enjoyed their breakfast and daily exercise routine.
The residents sit in a semi-circle, creating a stage area of sorts for the children to play.
'The children share talents,' Mrs. Wolfe said. 'They do gymnastics, recite poetry, all sorts of things.'
On Jan. 21, two girls played a hand game like Patty Cake, a third played the violin and a couple of boys played the piano. No matter the mistakes, each performance earned a round of applause, some smiles and a couple of giggles.
The talent portion of the visit concluded with a push-up competition among the children. Their goal is to do 50 push-ups.
'They do as many as they can until they get tired,' Mrs. Wolfe said. 'And then they quit.'
And the last one standing - err, pushing up - wins the game.
'It's such a funny, cute thing to watch,' said resident Lee Murphy of Temple, who will be 91 next month.
After that, the Hug Around happens. That's where the children form a line and hug the residents.
'That's my favorite part,' said resident Maurice Smith. 'I love those hugs. I guess that's why I had such a big family, three boys and three girls.'
The group activity is only part of the CTCS visitation program. It also includes time for one-on-one chatting.
'Each child is assigned a buddy,' Mrs. Wolfe said. 'Every time we come, the kids bring something for their buddies, something they've made like a card or a picture.'
For some students, the 'buddy' relationships lasts well beyond their third-grade year.
Rebekah Brooks said she was friends with Janice Coleman until seventh grade, the year her buddy passed away.
'She was a little bit like me,' said Miss Brooks, now in the eighth grade at CTCS. 'She liked artwork. We'd talk about all sorts of things and seemed to relate together.'
Her mother, Wendy Brooks, said Mrs. Coleman became a part of the family.
'We'd invite her over to the house for dinner,' Mrs. Brooks said. 'And she'd always remember Rebekah on her birthday.'
And Miss Brooks would get something for Mrs. Coleman at Christmas.
For last two years of her life, Mrs. Coleman lived with her sister in California. But she didn't forget her CTCS buddy.
'We became pen pals,' Miss Brooks said. 'We'd exchange letters and cards, and I knew she liked art, so I'd send her pictures I drew.'
Miss Brooks is thankful for that special friendship.
'It was really cool,' Miss Brooks said. 'She lived in a different time than I did. I got to hear a bunch of stuff about the Depression and what she and her friends did. She made toys out of boxes. She was resourceful and creative. I'm glad I knew her.'
That's just one success story.
The teacher says all of her students leave their third-grade year knowing the value of older generations.
'The children learn not to be afraid of older people,' Mrs. Wolfe said. 'They learn how to be tender hearted, and they learn about sacrificing for the sake of others. To be able to come to Hearthstone, they have to miss recess. So they learn about giving of themselves.'

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