TEENS WITH OPEN ARMS
As read in the Greer Herald on Tuesday September 1, 2009 >> VOL. 6, NO. 35
TEENS WITH OPEN ARMS
Riverside students impact lives of Brighton Gardens residents
By Christina Wilson
For the Greer Herald
Local businessowner, Barry Horst, last month was crowned winner of the first ever Womanless pageant at Brighton Gardens to hoots, hollers and the ringing of bells from resident at the Pelham Road senior care facility. It's one of several events organized by a group of Riverside High students who have adopted the home and visit weekly.
Teens with Open Arms was born in June after student Jason Julian, 16, first went to the tacitly with mom Carol, who owns a trained therapy dog and visits Brighton Gardens and Hospice regularly. It had been a year since the death of Jason's grandma, Donna, also Carol’s mother. He was instantly drawn to the residents.
The next day, he rounded up friends and went back. He’s since been to visit a dozen times and has enlisted seven members of Teens with Open Arms. He’s working to register the group as an official non-profit organization and hopes other teens at area high schools will form chapters and adopt additional facilities.
“If people would go and visit just one time they would see things (seniors) go through and realize how lucky they are. They would just want to go more and try to help them out,” said Jason, once a member of Riverside’s wrestling and football teams.
About 150 seniors live in Brighton Gardens’ three different communities -- assisted living, skilled nursing and the reminiscence “neighborhood” for patients who suffer dementia. Teens with Open Arms volunteers primarily with the third group. Donna suffered from Alzheimer's.
“It’s good for us to spend time with them and talk to them. Every time you do it helps them to remember things,” said Jason, who also recruited his cousin Quinn, 12, who was eager to become part of a group that honors his grandma’s memory.
In addition to talking with residents, the teens have lead bowling tournaments and dances. They’re willing to do just about anything to elicit smiles including dressing in drag. The pageant was proposed by workers at Brighton Gardens and the teens agreed without hesitation.
“This enriches our residents’ lives,” said Sheila Altman, Brighton Garden activities coordinator. “They love it when anyone comes to visit. This started with just one visit but now a whole group comes weekly and works with our patients.”
Florence Hale, 82, is a retired elementary school teacher and director of Brighton Gardens’ Bell Choir “The Ding-A-Lings.” She padded out bells at the August 20 event so audience members could ring them to urge on participants, a mix of teens and a local businessowner, they coerced to take part in the risque’ show.
Residents of the facility look forward to visits from Teens with Open Arms, Hale said. “I think once they get here and form relationships with the older people, they get more out of it than they give. Everybody here loves them.”
Jason and Quinn’s grandpa Charles, 80, traveled to Greenville from his Simpsonville home to watch the pageant. “When I tell people what these boys are doing, they can’t believe it,” said Charles, adding his wife would be proud of the fledgling organization. “She would think this is fantastic. She’s probably turning over with laughter right now.”