Aurora students waltz new dance memories into dementia patients’ lives

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    AURORAA group of high school seniors from Regis Jesuit High School brought Valentine’s Day a little early to the senior residents of Chelsea Place, a memory care facility in Aurora.

    The students set up a Valentine’s Day bash on Feb. 8 that took over the facility’s commons area with live music and dancing. For the past week of so, the group has been spending significant time out of school getting to know residents, said Jenni Dill, life engagement director for Chelsea Place. And the enthusiasm the students brought to the project was evident everywhere.

    “They put so much effort into making this happen in such a short amount of time,” Dill said. “It has been an incredible job.”

    The event was part of the school’s requirement that students participate in a 60 hour service project that benefits the community, said Kali Soudani, 18, a senior at Regis.

    Soudani and her fellow students had spent the past week or so not just working on planning the party but also getting to know many of the residents of the center. Many of the students were nervous at first about what to expect, but within the first day many said any nerves were replaced by a feeling they were getting to be a part of something special.

    The experience has been transformational for Soudani, who now wants to find a way to pursue a career serving others, especially seniors. She said the stories she’s heard from people like Greta Weissfelv, who came to the United States from germany as a young child after her family was able to escape from the Holocaust, has opened her eyes to the insight she and others can gain from just sitting and talking to the generations that have come before.  

    “There was a sense of anticipation and fear for me. I don’t have any grandparents so I hadn’t really worked with elderly people before. But I have learned that it’s not about age, it’s about our souls connecting, which I know kind of sounds cliche,” Soudani said. “When you meet with these people and they tell you their life stories, you realize this is probably the last generation you get to hear these things from.”

    For the residents, like Weissfelv, having the group of high schoolers at the center almost every day for the past week or so has been both uplifting and a true joy.

    “Being able to talk with them and them being here these past weeks has been the joy of my life. Just hearing about their lives, their career goals and just how helpful they’ve been and how enlightening they’ve been,” Weissfelv said. “I wish they could be here more often.”

    Dill said that events like this are beneficial both for the resident of Chelsea Place and also the students. Too often society separates youth from seniors, which is the exact opposite of what should happen.

    “Intergenerational experiences are so important not just for our resident sbut for the kids as well,” Dill said. “It gives them the opportunity to impart the wisdom they’ve gained to the next generation.”