Thursday, June 24, 1999

This camp celebrates old age, youth


Seniors, kids, pets play, learn together

BY MIRIAM SMITH
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MONTGOMERY — Fern Thompson sat by herself Wednesday, resting in a lawn chair away from a flurry of giggling girls, chatty seniors and playful pups.

        She sat quietly and still, save for her eyelids, which began to slowly droop in the afternoon heat. She didn't go unnoticed.

        “Fern — what's wrong, Fern?” said Sarah Moore, 11, of Blue Ash, as she kneeled down in front of the 83-year-old resident of Meadowbrook Care Center in Montgomery.

        Fern muttered that her legs hurt, and Sarah sprang up and offered to take her back inside.

        Meadowbrook is an unlikely place for a summer day camp. But organizers want children to interact with the elderly while they they engage in typical summer camp activities.

        It's a place where:

        • Children are encouraged not only to help the elderly, but to learn from them.

        • Elderly men and women with aching bones link hands with energetic teens, and together they stroll around the courtyard.

        • A 70-year-old man cuddles a dog in his lap as though it's the first time he's ever held one — when in fact it's been only 30 years.

        • The shrieks of children tossing and dropping eggs and water balloons brings chuckles to some of the center's residents.

        A camp to bring the old and young together was the brainchild of Kim Wesley, volunteer coordinator of the facility.

        Last summer, she noticed a lot of parents brought their children to the center to volunteer.

        “We wanted them to do something good with their (children's) time,” Miss Wesley said. “There were so many of them, it wasn't structured enough for them.”

        Since June 7, an average of 20 children have attended the daily sessions, which run weekdays until Aug. 27. The camp is offered for children ages 11 to 14.

        While they're involved in standard summer camp activities like arts and crafts and games, these children learn things they never would at a typical summer camp.

        “The kids are definitely gaining a knowledge of what nursing homes are all about, and that they're not scary,” Miss Wesley said. “They can have fun with these people, and they're gaining a respect for the elderly. The residents themselves have just been smiling nonstop.”

        It's helped Sarah grow up a little.

        “It's kind of different, because you have to be MATUUURE and know what to do,” she said, gesturing jokingly to her friend Max Novess, 11.

        Max never expected camp with the elderly to be interesting, let alone fun.

        “I thought it'd be boring,” said Max, of Austin, Texas, who is visiting his mother, Mare Novess of Maine- ville. “I always thought older people were boring, but then I figured out they had a lot of things to say.”

        Since he's been at camp, Max has even played a few rounds of horseshoes with some of the residents.

        On Wednesdays, the children do more than just help the elderly with their trays and take them on walks. They are allowed to bring their pets.

        David Kennedy, 70, was especially grateful. He held Casey, a small Corgi, in his lap most of the afternoon.

        Mr. Kennedy was even more excited about the young campers.

        “It's brought vitality to this place,” he said. “They're everywhere. They're very helpful.”

        Then Mr. Kennedy added with a laugh: “We're a bunch old geezers. They're full of life.”

       



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