By MARINELLA LENTIS
For The Catholic Week
MONTGOMERY — Once a month, residents of Seton Haven, a retirement community in Montgomery, celebrate birthdays with the special help of local homeschoolers.
Children ages 4 to 12 help serve ice cream, cake, punch and then assist the residents in playing Bingo on the second Tuesday of each month. The homeschooling families are honored to be able to reach out to the community while the residents enjoy spending some time with young and lively children.
Members of the Seton Haven Volunteer Group at Holy Spirit Parish and St. Vincent de Paul Society have been involved with residents at the assisted living facility for more than a decade and had recruited homeschooling families only recently and mostly for Christmas parties. About 18 months ago, Pier Geis of the Seton Haven volunteer group contacted Monica Burke, a fellow Holy Spirit parishioner, and asked her if the families would be willing to come on a monthly basis during the school year to help with the birthday parties.
They did not hesitate to accept the invitation.
“I’m really glad Pier asked me to do it because my girls enjoy it a lot and service is helping them see outside of their wants and their needs, giving to others their time,” Burke said.
According to Jessica Coleman, her kids have built relationships and they look forward to seeing some of the residents, playing the games with them and just having fun together.
“Sometime they look forward to the cake and ice cream, but they’re excited about the interaction, it’s been a great part of our month!”
Geis is also excited to have the children give her and the other volunteers a hand
“It’s a huge help for us and I know the residents are really enjoying having them,” she said. “It’s made a big difference.”
One time when the parents could not bring the kids because they were all sick, the residents became all worried and concerned.
“I thought it was the cutest thing,” remembered Geis. “It was very sweet.”
This is when she knew that this was something special. Many of the residents don’t have families around, so they are very appreciative of these visits, of the attention they get from the children and the special connection they form with some of them.
On Valentine’s Day, one of Burke’s two daughters took a liking to an older gentleman who gave her his Bingo prize and now the four of them chat along after everybody else is gone.
“I see a world of difference through these relationships and it’s been great,” Geis remarked.
The benefits are mutual and one of the things parents are grateful for through this service project is that their children are learning to relate to a different age group.
“A lot of kids don’t know how to talk to the elderly or that they’re people too and this helps them see that they just want to have fun, they’re somebody they can talk to, so it kind of bridges that gap,” Burke said.
Mothers too benefit from serving the elderly community as they feel useful in ways that differ from their normal lives.
It’s a sacrifice at times, especially during busy months with field trips or extra activities, but once they are there they feel needed, appreciated, and as Burke said, that they are “serving like God asked us to do.”
Coleman, who is a mother of 7, feels encouraged by the residents and the support they have given her family.
“In a way our society does not reverence or see joy in children, but an elderly population who can look back sees this joy and I’m encouraged by that because sometimes as a mom I do feel overwhelmed.”
By MARINELLA LENTIS