Shirley Gradwell and Archie Marsh fill up their bingo cards Thursday at Bethany Sylvan Lake. The two were a part of Ecole our Lady of the Rosary School’s Bethany Buddies where students and seniors spend an hour together. (Photo by MURRAY CRAWFORD/Advocate staff)

‘Bethany Buddies’ brings students, seniors together in Sylvan Lake

A chance for elementary students and seniors to play a game together brought smiles to all around.

On Thursday, 19 Grade 1 students and 14 long-term residents spent an hour, playing letter bingo together. The students from Ecole Our Lady of the Rosary School in Sylvan Lake were bused to the Sylvan Lake Bethany Centre on 47th Avenue.

Janelle Gates, a Grade 1 teacher at the school, read out letters as the students and care residents helped each other play the game.

“It opens the students eyes to our community and the people in it,” said Gates.

Every school in the Red Deer Catholic Regional School District does a mental health project. For Our Lady of the Rosary, that means a bimonthly visit to a local extendicare facility.

“It’s encouraging our little people to go out in the community and interact,” said Gates. “It helps teach the kids that, even though they’re little, they can still make a difference in people’s lives.”

This year, the school received a grant from the Red Deer Catholic Education Foundation to provide busing from the school to Bethany Centre. Last year, students walked over and due to bad weather on some days the sessions were cancelled.

According to Lynda Gamroth, the school’s counselor, the program provides students an opportunity to participate in a community ministry that impacts many people. By having regular visitors, it provides an activity to look forward to. The goal is to “bridge the gap,” between the two generations.

Jennifer Schmidt, recreation therapist at Bethany Sylvan Lake, said the program creates some awareness around dementia. Some of the residents who participate in the program have dementia.

“People, especially children, can view dementia as being scary,” said Schmidt. “The kids can see that it’s not and this is a great program for that.”

In the hour the students spend time doing arts and crafts or literacy focused activities. Schmidt said these activities give Bethany residents cognitive and emotional stimulation and some work with fine motor skills.

“I find that, even if they don’t remember what happened, they’re in a better mood for the rest of the day,” said Schmidt.

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