It was like Christmas in August at the Wesley Healthcare Center Thursday afternoon. The role of Santa was played by special education students from the F. Donald Myers Education Center.
The students walked the halls of the assisted living community handing out bundled gifts, handmade and wrapped by the students during their summer classes at BOCES.
“It’s very nice,” said Gladys Jamieson, a resident of Wesley, as a student handed her a beaded flower magnet the students made and wrapped in sparkling green tissue paper.
“This helps them make a connection between what the students learn and how they can positively impact their community,” teacher Kim Ferguson said.
Her students visit Wesley Healthcare Center periodically during their summer program. They work in the kitchen, fold clothing, shred documents or do a handful of other jobs at the center.
“They do everything like everyone else to the best of their ability,” said Pat Quinn, volunteer services coordinator for Wesley.
Perhaps more important than their work at the center, at least to residents, are the friendships the students form during the time they visit Wesley, which for some can be years.
“We have volunteers who come with BOCES when they are 16 and now they’re 30 and are still coming with other organizations,” Quinn said. “They form long-term friendships with residents.”
The facility has some residents with special needs, brain injuries and other disabilities, but she said the students from Myers don’t see that. They “see the person.”
“They are so accepting of our folks here,” she said.
“It’s something different when they come up here to break up the same old hum-drum,” said John Foster who is regularly visited by two young men who help him reach things he can’t in his room. “They’re very helpful and cheer us up here,” he said.
“One of the goals for this program is to develop employable skills,” Ferguson said. For instance, students’ language skills are put to use while filling out cards for the residents.
Halfway through their day in the program, many of the students go to the Holiday Inn, where they also work in an internship in housekeeping.
BOCES student Michelle Keefe handed Hathorn resident Sister Margaret Labish at Wesley Community Center a gift made by the students during their summer class. They also made cards for the residents. Photo Erica Miller 8/9/12
In addition to the work skills they learn, Ferguson said the interactions with residents can be helpful in getting a job.
Interacting with people they don’t know and learning that speaking to a resident of Wesley, for example, should differ from how they talk to their best friends.
“It’s a good experience for them,” he said.
Michelle Keefe is also taking a Health and Human Services Class at BOCES, where she learns more advanced skills for future job placement.
One of them is learning to take care of the elderly. She said she doesn’t get to visit Wesley as much as she used to and made sure to stop in on one of her friends.
“It’s nice to be back,” she said, holding a box of gifts for the residents.
“It’s like a second home,” Quinn said as the students were leaving for the day. She said the relationship between the two organizations is symbiotic.
“It’s a meshing of the community,” she said.