Friday, June 22, 2012
Bonding over bingo
SMLCA students and retirement home residents share songs, stories and anticipation of visits.
It will be a couple of months before Joshua Bouknight and his friend, a resident at Runk & Pratt Smith Mountain Lake Retirement Village, will see each other again. Most likely they will get together over a game of bingo - as they have many times in the past.
The 7-year-old and the senior citizen at first glance seem an unlikely pair. But because students at Bouknight's school, Smith Mountain Lake Christian Academy (SMLCA), frequent the Runk & Pratt Smith Mountain Lake Retirement Village during the school year for joint activities, the pairing of seniors with students has become common and comfortable.
Some of them, like Bouknight and his table mate, have even developed special friendships.
"We really enjoy it. The kids could stay here all day," said the resident. "When they come, I look for Joshua."
Across the room, second-grader Gabe Hardy keeps his table laughing with funny comments. Beside him, another resident smiles in amusement.
"I've known Gabe for four years, ever since day one when his school started coming here," said the resident at Hardy's table. "I love kids, had seven of my own and raised nine. Gabe and I usually talk about the activities we've done together before."
Friendships such as these are what teachers and parents of the SMLCA students like to see develop as a result of class trips from the school to Runk & Pratt. First- and second-grade teacher Jennifer Saleeba said the students and residents attend one another's holiday programs and take part together in events such as Easter egg hunts, in addition to visits throughout the school year.
"We come once a month, different grades come each time. We used to send preschool, kindergarten and first and second-graders, but this year we have sent preschool up to fifth grade, and a different grade comes each time," said Saleeba.
Saleeba said she's had to start waiting until the last minute to tell the students there is a trip to Runk & Pratt planned because the children get so eager they have a hard time focusing on class work.
"The kids absolutely love it, they get so excited when they know we're coming. Some of the students and residents look for one another when we come in," she said.
Along with friendship, Saleeba said the visits teach the students important character qualities.
"It helps them gain communication skills and an awareness of elderly needs," she said. "It is good for the kids who are shy and don't like to speak up around groups."
The Rev. Philip Bouknight, pastor at local Trinity Ecumenical Parish in Moneta, accompanies son Joshua as a parent chaperone. He is quick to point out that one of the most important qualities the kids are learning through their time at the retirement center is compassion.
Second-grader Maddie Hensen said bingo isn't the only activity the two groups do together.
"We sing songs and sometimes they read books to us," said Hensen. "My favorite is playing bingo."
They also play board games together, color and work on craft projects.
Janie Bush, activities director for the retirement facility, said when the kids show up, she can tell that it makes a marked difference in the residents' day.
"Their whole personality changes," said Bush. "They can go from having a bad mood or being lonely or reminiscing over the past, and when the kids come in, it's over. They're a different person for the rest of the day. The residents are so glad to see the kids. It's such an amazing impact they have."
Bush said the connection between the two organizations is a good community partnership.
SMLCA Principal Kris Perdue agreed and said the school plans to resume the program in the fall.