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Intergenerational programs at Glen Ellyn's Arden Courts benefit all ages

Published: Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013 9:00 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 9:58 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Bill Ackerman - backerman@shawmedia.com)
Jonathan Willcutt (right), 12, of Warrenville, sits in as an assistant exercise leader in the morning "Movin' and Groovin'" session at Arden Courts in Glen Ellyn on Friday, Aug. 9, 2013. Arden Courts has intergenerational programs involving both groups and family members. Jonathan's mom, Cynthia (left) sits next to her mom, Ema Wilson, who is a resident. Bill Ackerman - backerman@shawmedia.com

GLEN ELLYN – When children and young adults visit the residents of Arden Courts memory care facility in Glen Ellyn, it’s a special treat.

“They have so much energy,” said Nancy Panza, who has lived at Arden Courts about six years. “They’re jumping up and down and running around, and I like seeing that.”

About 52 residents live at Arden Courts, which treats people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Because interactions with young people can spark the minds of those with memory disorders, Arden Courts staff have partnered with community groups to offer intergenerational programming.

“A lot of our residents – as they progress in their disease – they don’t really want to go out,” said Linda Tomasello, Arden Courts’ program services coordinator. “It causes a lot of anxiety for them to be out, so it’s much better for them to bring people in and to be with people of different ages.”

Community partners include the B.R. Ryall YMCA of Northwestern DuPage County and Western DuPage Special Recreation Association (WDSRA).

The YMCA’s Camp Pryde, which includes about 20 incoming sixth through ninth graders, has visited Arden Courts twice this summer for themed beach party and safari programs.

Camp Pryde Coordinator Meghan Reilly reached out to Arden Courts to begin the visits last summer as part of the camp’s focus on service projects.

Although the campers were nervous in the beginning, they built relationships with residents over the course of their visits, Reilly said.

Part of the purpose of the intergenerational programs is to pull campers out of their comfort zones to interact with all kinds of people with friendship and understanding, she said.

“It basically teaches them that everyone is different, and that’s OK,” Reilly added.

The seniors, too, benefit from the programs. Although the average Arden Courts resident is 85 years old and all of them suffer from dementia, the young people ignite a spirit in them, Tomasello said.

While the details of the visits may not stick with residents, the emotional afterglow remains, she added.

Cynthia Willcutt of Warrenville – whose mother, Ema Wilson, has lived at Arden Courts about three years – said visits from children inspire full sentences from her mom, who oftentimes offers only one-word responses.

“There’s a sparkle that comes in her eye where she might have had the blank stare,” Willcutt said.

Visits from the WDSRA Rec and Roll Day Program in Carol Stream also reveal a special level of understanding between the program’s young adults with developmental disabilities and the seniors living at Arden Courts.

The groups regularly get together to play “Buddy Bingo,” and Rec and Roller Matt Kuecker, 27, of Bloomingdale said he enjoys getting to help residents place their bingo chips on the correct numbers and talking to them about their families.

“It gives Rec and Rollers a sense of value because they’re the ones helping them play bingo,” said Dori Napolitano, WDSRA day program manager. “A lot of the time, they’re the ones being helped, but now they’re the helpers.”

Knowing the benefits to the young adults, whose average age is 27, and the seniors, Napolitano reached out to Arden Courts to set up the Buddy Bingo program.

“They each have their own special needs, and they recognize it in each other,” Tomasello said. “It reaches to their soul level where they are very much empathetic, caring, compassionate for others.”

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