You’ve Got A Friend

Published: Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A random inquiry about volunteer opportunities at Passavant Community for teens from St. Stephen’s Lutheran Academy in Zelienople has produced the most unlikely, but wonderful, of friendships. 

St. Stephen's Lutheran Academy is a licensed, private school that offers autism support education, special education and therapeutic tertiary education beond that found in a traditional education program.

As part of that program, six students now participate in Passavant Community’s volunteer program. They come every week with their instructor for a portion of the school day to play games, sing, dance and interact with the residents.

Michelle Bobbert, household coordinator of the Allegheny Household in the Abundant Life Center, a Memory Care unit, said she has been thrilled with the enthusiasm the residents show when the students are there.

“The residents know the kids, and they get big smiles when they see the kids walk in. They know that they are about to have some fun!”

Residents in the memory care units are encouraged to participate in carefully planned activities that can help them build and maintain emotional connections, encourage self-expression and help them feel engaged.

“Pairing the residents with the teens,” Bobbert explained, “helps them tap into their playful side, which can help alleviate some of the anxiety and irritability that can occur in people with memory impairment.”

Activities have included games of Nerf football, shopping at the Gift Shop, and playing pool in the Game Room, all of which have been enjoyed tremendously by both the residents and the students.

One game that two of the boys, Skylor and Henry, especially enjoy is Noodle Ball, where the residents and students gather in a circle and hit a large balloon around the room with foam pool noodles, all the while singing and dancing to 80’s music.

“It’s a sight to see!” Bobbert said. “The boys are dancing, the residents are clapping and hitting the balloons around, and everyone is having a great time. The smiles on the residents’ faces are just priceless. Not to mention its great exercise!”

“I think going to Passavant has been the best thing for these kids,” said Candy Dwire, CBL instructor at St. Stephen’s Academy. “They aren’t judged there. They have a sense of pride in their ‘work,’ receive positive reinforcement and truly enjoy interacting with the residents.”

“The kids and our residents mesh very well,” Bobbert said. “It’s a great relationship. No one notices each other’s differences when they are together. They just simply enjoy each other’s company.”

“The Passavant staff has been so wonderful to our kids. They always make them feel at home and give them treats when they come,” Dwire said. “The experience has been more than we ever expected, and we are so grateful for it.”


Click here for more information about volunteer opportunities that are available at Passavant Community and other Lutheran SeniorLife facilities.

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