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Chana High students bring the gift of youth to seniors care facility

Residents with dementia, Alzheimer’s interact with students
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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In a room of seniors diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer’s, 17-year-old Sheldon Allmon realizes he won’t be making memories for them.

But the Chana High School junior said Tuesday that he’s making a connection with people sometimes 60 or 70 years older than himself – and perhaps making his own memories.

Allmon was one of a group of Chana students – members of the school’s Lions Club-sponsored Leos Club – who take time out of their schooling once a month during midday to bus over to nearby Sierra Ridge Memory Care Center on Blue Oaks Drive to interact with residents of the facility.

Allmon, whose world outside of school revolves around activities like playing guitar, fishing and reading books such as a recent one on boxer “Hurricane” Carter, has found that the people he has met at Sierra Ridge have some common ground.

“Jim was in the Marines and we’ve been talking about things we both like – lakes and rivers,” Allmon said. “I’ve learned about things that none of us have lived through. And I’ve found they have wisdom and knowledge.”

Devy Graham, 18, said that she’s gained a better perspective on life from the monthly visits. Sharyn Larimer, 18, said that she’s learned to appreciate the experiences of the aging residents she may one day have to live through herself.

Chana outreach counselor Diana Blais initiated the Leo Club visits after her own visits on weekends as part of a devotional program.

“It’s a great enriching experience, to put yourself in the shoes of others,” Blais said.

Students bring songs, poems and their own stories to share. On Thursday, many were working with residents on creating magnetic “birdhouses.”

Sierra Ridge life enrichment director Colleen Magda said the high school visits are part of a larger program designed to create a sense of normalcy in the lives of residents at a facility intended to keep people safe and secure.

While the center itself is locked to prevent residents from leaving, the community comes in to provide a lift to their lives. One group is a family of eight that provides musical entertainment. At Easter, the Pamelot dance school makes a visit. At Halloween, students from a nearby school troop in with costumes on.

The high-school visits are another example of the bonds the center is creating between residents and the community.

“Every time we bring youth in, it always brings a smile,” Magda said.

Barbara, a dementia patient, was unable to recall her age but said she appreciated the visits. Her last name was not able to be given without permission from a guardian.

“It’s something very different from just the ordinary day,” she said. “The ordinary day has its own pleasure and this gives it variety.”