By BRETT BARDSLEY
Bessie Carson was enjoying a book in her wooden rocking chair when something caught her attention.
Coming from the dining room downstairs, Carson could hear dance music, a sound quite uncommon for her Orem rest home.
Curious, Carson grabbed her metal walker and traveled down the two floors to see what possibly could be happening. She was surprised by what she found.
All of her neighbors, none younger than 80, were dancing with college students to a live band.
“Everyone was dancing to music from our generation,” Carson said. “They were just having a ball.”
BYU students had planned the dance, prepared refreshments and organized a band to play for the elderly residents.
The dining room was transformed into a tropical island with bright flowers and trees decorated earlier by the students. All the dancers received colorful leis.
“It was wonderful,” Carson said. “We were laughing, talking and dancing way past our bedtime.”
Care center facilitators and residents have been impressed recently with the increasing amount of service rendered by BYU students at retirement homes. Study time and date nights are often put aside for opportunities to establish friendships with the community’s elderly.
“BYU students have been great recently,” said Linda Nelson, activities director for The Seville, an independent living center in Orem. “The residents are so excited when the students come to play and visit.”
Nelson said bingo is not the only past-time residents look forward to. Students have been very creative when planning different activities.
“Students come prepare events like races, bean-bag baseball, indoor golf and luaus,” Nelson said. “A lot of students also come sing, play instruments, organize choirs and perform Polynesian dances.”
According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, the number of volunteers is on the rise. In 1974, 35 million people volunteered their time. In 2006, the number increased to over 61 million. Last year, Americans spent over 8 billion hours volunteering.
Leading the nation in volunteer service is Utah. Nearly 46 percent of Utah residents volunteered in 2006. Each Utah resident volunteered for, on average, 81.9 hours.
According to the Center for Service and Learning, BYU is one of the reasons for Utah’s high numbers. In 2006, students spent 45,747 hours volunteering in 29 different events.
Many of those hours were spent by students visiting the elderly in nearby care homes.
The Adopt-A-Grandparent program is one of the center’s services geared toward serving the elderly. Students are paired up with a resident of a community care center for one semester. Volunteers are encouraged to visit their “grandparent” twice a month to offer friendship and a listening ear.
For Rob Anderson, co-director of the program, the Adopt-A-Grandparent service bridges the generation gap between the community’s elderly and college students.
“We can learn so much from their experiences,” Anderson said. “Most of the time they just want someone to talk to and to know that they are loved.”
Amber Peacock, activities director at Summerfield Retirement Community, has also seen an increase in student volunteers. For residents that don’t receive visits from family, the time volunteers spend is priceless.
“The volunteers are amazing,” Peacock said. “They organize family home evenings, scripture studies, card shark clubs, book clubs and they even bring an ice cream cart around to the residents.”
Audree Creery, director of marketing and admissions for Golden Living, said their volunteers have found some unconventional ways to entertain the residents.
“Students have painted crafts, gone on scouting adventures and they’ve even come and cleaned residents’ dentures,” Creery said. “The residents love whatever the students can dream up.”
Although the activities are popular, Creery said residents most look forward to individual time spent with students.
Laura Moster, a Cincinnati native majoring in history teaching, visits care centers regularly for those one-on-one experiences.
“I feel like I am filling in for all those who have children and grandchildren far away,” Moster said. “I love talking to old people because they are always so excited and lively.”
Despite the increase of volunteers visiting the elderly, care centers would appreciate even more help.
“Yes, the students have helped us out a lot recently,” Peacock said. “But we still need all the help we can get from BYU.”