Bridging the gap Milford nursing home residents have ‘young companions’

MILFORD – Willie Miles remembers when it started – in health class at Milford High last fall. Teacher Steve Scannell was talking about getting old and said he hoped his students would visit him when he’s in a nursing home.

As it happens, there is a nursing home a few blocks from the school, so when Miles and his friend, Dominic Nguyen, were talking about that class conversation, one of them said, “Let’s go there.”

And so they did, and they brought some fellow classmates. Eventually, they formed themselves into a club called the Young Kasamas, at the suggestion of Scannell, who has a Philippine son-in-law. Kasamas is Philippine for “companions.”

That was last fall. Now, more than 60 students are involved – visiting the residents regularly and chatting and playing games with them.

“The first time – when we were new,” Miles said, “(the residents) were not too excited” to see them, but now they brighten up when the kids come in the Crosby Street building.

Sophomores Allision Betelak, Sinead Gomes and Natalie Olsen have taken over leadership of the Young Kasamas and the trio usually goes to the nursing home together once or twice a week and join in the activities of the day or play games. On Wednesdays, they bake cookies or other treats in the kitchen with residents.

“At first, I was nervous,” said Sinead, who had never been in a nursing home before, “but everyone was really nice.”

During a volunteer appreciation party held April 9, Donald Roy, who has lived at Crestwood for three years, said he enjoys the visits of Milford sophomore Briana Mayhew, and they play board games and Wii golf and bowling.

“The day after Thanksgiving,” Roy said, “we decorated a huge tree” in the dining room, and “they were wheeling me back and forth in my wheelchair so I could decorate the tree.”

Mary Pucciarello, who is 92 and has lived there for two years, said the students’ visits are good for everyone involved.

“It’s good for us, because it breaks up the monotony,” she said, “and it’s good for the school kids, because it releases them from the pressures of book work.”

Crestwood Activities Director Linette Davidson told the assembled residents and volunteers during the volunteer appreciation party that the volunteers are the “heart and soul of this community” and the time they spend with the residents is priceless.

Crestwood Administrator Judy Matchett called the students’ visits “phenomenal.”

When the Young Kasamas come here, the “residents really light up,” she said. “We’re really glad to have them.”

Principal Brad Craven was at the volunteer appreciation party and said what he likes about the club is that it didn’t stem from “a community service mandate,” and the kids are doing it because they want to.

“It’s the neatest thing – to bridge that gap between the young and the old,” Craven said.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at kcleveland@cabinet.com or 673-3100, ext. 304.