Friendship is defined as a relationship based on mutual trust and at times mutual likes, but sometimes it is the differences that connect us and make use realize we really are the same.
Posted on 6/6/15
By Melissa Anderson
The friendships formed in Mrs. Freier’s third grade class extended far beyond the norm as this class of 15 embarked on a journey of friendship with residents of Maple Manor Care Center (MMCC).
Each student was paired with one to two residents that they would meet with each month. Once a month the class would make a visit to spend time sharing, creating, reading and, most importantly, building a relationship with their “Friend for Life” at MMCC. This was part of an Art for Life grant by the Northern Lights Arts Council. At the end of the project both a video and book were created to showcase the year-long project. The book was a compilation of writings each student did after their visits. The students were each given their own book, while larger books with everyone’s writing, were created to be placed at MMCC and the elementary school.
And while it may have seemed scary to meet someone new, Rudy simply stated, “It’s not scary meeting new people,” with the rest of the class adding especially when the person is your friend at MMCC.
Each student was paired with a resident. It was during the visit that the two would spend time together. Some months, they would work on a art project like pumpkin placemats or pottery while other times it was playing games or reading books. Each time the students and friends would talk on a specific topic. These topics ranged from school and holiday memories, weather folklores, family traditions and on each other’s daily life. These conversations were always two-sided with both sharing with each other. Many times it was this time that the students came back to school talking about. It was the goal for the students to learn something from their friends but talking with the residents, the learning was mutual.
“We learned more from them then they learned from us,” Lois, one of the MMCC friends, said. Gladys, another MMCC friend, agreed by adding how much fun this year was for the residents and that she and everyone were sad to see it end.
The friendships built during the year are hopefully ones that will continue on into the summer and beyond with most of the third graders already making plans to visit their friends.
When asked what the best part was, more than one of the students simply said meeting and being friends with my partner. While they all liked the playing kickball or bingo or making something together, it was just getting the opportunity to spend time together, having another person, whether you are old or young, invested and interested in your life.
Vicki Stein, activity director, along with Stacey Dubois and Amanda Doscher, activity assistants, agreed that this was a great program for the residents of MMCC.
“When we started this program, I wasn’t sure how the students were going to react to spending one afternoon a month at a nursing home. For some it was a scary first visit, but we talked as a class about what we might see, hear and even smell. Then the first visit came and they met their partners. There was no fear but rather we left and each one of them wanted to know when we were going back. It was like that every month. The weeks leading up to going it was, ‘When are we going?’ Then the week of, we would count down until we went on Wednesday. When we got back, they started counting down until they could go again,” Amy Freier, third grade teacher, said.
The class echoed her stating that they were always excited to go and were sad when MMCC was closed because of the flu. It wasn’t just the students who were sad when they couldn’t visit. Residents also commented that when their partner was gone because of appointments or sickness, they missed not seeing them during the visit.
At the last meeting, a picnic was held for the residents, the students, and their parents. Both Vicki and Amy hoped the picnic would allow for the parents to meet their child’s partner and maybe make plans to visit during the summer. During the picnic the friends got more time to spend with one another and then a short video of the year was played. More than one student and resident left with tears in their eyes, as they recounted the fun that they had over the year.
“I had hoped this would be a successful project, but this exceeded my hopes. I would have students come in during the year and talk about how they had visited their friend during the weekend. How amazing is it as these friendships grew! I know for some of my students it was exactly what they needed, another person to genuinely be interested in their lives. I think for some of the residents it was same,” Freier said.
Drew said his favorite time was the picnic because it gave him and his partner, Doris, more time to spend together.
When asked to describe their friends, the third graders used kind and generous repeatedly with a few expounding to say their partners were warm-hearted, a jokester, and willing to do the activities. They did not mention their physical descriptions simply because it didn’t matter to either friend that there was an age gap or possible physical limitations. In fact, after playing kickball, the third graders remarked how athletic some of their partners were. The descriptions were based on what the students valued in their friends and the friendship.