Teen dedicates summer to entertaining seniors
Klint LowryHUDSON - Jonathan Mull has spent a lot of time this summer thinking about being a senior.
Published: August 11, 2012
Published: August 11, 2012
In one sense that's not surprising. Mull is about to start his final year at Hudson High School, and it's common for students to come down with a case of "senioritis," an impatient excitement about graduating and heading toward their adult future.
But along with that, Mull has been considering further into the future, on what it is to be a senior, as in senior citizen. He has spent much of his summer at Atria Baypoint Village, where he has been seeing to it that the residents have an active and entertaining summer.
He's also been sharing the experience with other teens, developing an outreach program in which high school students interact with the seniors to their mutual benefit.
"The reward is making other people feel better," Mull said, as he stepped away from an afternoon game of tabletop "horse racing," in which players can wager play money on which cardboard horse will make it across the finish line, their progress determined by rolling dice.
"It's one of the most popular things we have here," he said. "It's like gambling … but it's not gambling."
Indeed, the crowd gathered around the table was talking loud, making jokes about whichever horse was bringing up the rear, even if it was the one they had their "money" on. It was the kind of atmosphere that had impressed Mull when he first came to the assisted living facility during his junior year.
Fivay High School social studies teacher Eric Johnson, who had previously taught at Hudson High, has been a mentor the last few years, Mull said. Johnson often invites seniors from Atria Baypoint Village to be guest speakers in his classes, to share their firsthand experiences of living through World War II and the Great Depression. He has found both generations get a lot out of the interaction.
Johnson had arranged for some of his Fivay Students to visit the assisted living facility some months ago, and invited Mull to come along, knowing his caring nature.
"I really want to go into pharmacology," Mull said. His career goal is to get into drug research and development. His dream is to develop an alternative to chemotherapy that isn't as demanding on the body.
At that first visit, Mull was quickly enamored with the old folks; they had so much experience, so many stories to tell.
"When the residents talked to me, I felt kind of a connection," he said. "Every resident here has a story to tell." One resident in particular struck a chord, he recalled.
"Her name was Gerta, and she told me about how she was in a concentration camp in Italy," Mull said.
Taken with Gerta and her fellow residents, Mull started volunteering twice a week to conduct events on the activities calendar, particularly exercise. He leads the residents through chair aerobics, dance exercise, corn hole tournaments and "splashercise" classes.
Mull decided the enrichment he got from the experience was something he didn't want to keep to himself. He began recruiting friends to come along. During the summer he has been supervising a regular group of students who come in four or five at a time to conduct activity events.
Ashlie Abraham joined in because it felt like the right thing to do. Elderly people have made their contributions to society; young people should give something back to them. Like Mull, she has been most impressed by the treasure trove of experiences the seniors have to share.
"People come from everywhere to retire in Florida," she said. "There's one woman who speaks fluent Italian, and one who speaks fluent German. There are people who were in the war, and who've been in the holocaust."
On a more introspective note, Abraham said working with the elderly has taught her to value being young and healthy.
Kathleen Kienbaum, an "engage life" director at Atria Baypoint Village, pointed out that it works both ways. The teens' youthful energy rubs off on the residents.
"They enjoy the company," Kienbaum said. "They like having the interaction with the children. When they get to be around young people, it raises the energy level. We get a lot more participation in our programs."
Klowry@suncoastnews.com (727) 815-1067