Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Difference Maker Magic

I want to share a story about the great fun I had one night last week with Difference Makers* students, whom I took to our local assisted living facility to hang out for a while with the residents. This was our first outing together as a group.
First, on a side note, I’ll have you know the kids I’m working with are fantastic.  They are a motley crew, in a way (mixed grades, mixed personalities and skills), but together, they are having a ball.  The best part is that in Difference Makers, they belong and are appreciated very much by their new friends.  Seriously, my heart is bursting here, and I just had to share. 

Anyway, when we arrived at the center, the some of the residents greeted us warmly, but some of them were a little slow to warm up (a couple of them kept to themselves and never did warm up). Some of the students played BINGO with a small group of residents
while another student took the iPad I had brought from school into the living area and invited a resident (I’ll call her Hattie) to play virtual checkers.  Hattie cheerfully agreed.

Hattie was confused at times, losing focus and staring out the window, asking random questions about things she saw outside, but she always came back and seemed to enjoy playing a game.  Another student joined in, and the kids were so sweet with her; she had some difficulty understanding how to play; she had a hard time tapping where she was supposed to, and she tapped on the screen kind of randomly. The kids just went with it and very patiently and kindly let her “beat” them, cheering for her when the game ended.
Following the checkers game, I showed Talking Tom** to Hattie. She naturally reached out to stroke Tom's face and was tickled by his response (He purred.)

As stated earlier, Hattie had some issues with her motor skills, and when she accidentally tapped (instead of rubbing) Tom’s head, his head snapped back dramatically, and Hattie busted out in laughter. Because Talking Tom also “listens” to you and repeats back what you say (with perfect clarity), Tom got up and soon laughed back at Helen. (Her facial expression was priceless.)

During the gaming, I bounced between rooms and tried to engage one faded flower in particular, who sat on the couch without talking much; she met my attempts at conversation with one-word answers and then just sat quietly. In the last ten minutes that we were there, I approached her again. Although she had not responded to my attempts to engage her, it was clear that she was interested in what was going on in the room, especially when Hattie began laughing.  I told her, “You should see this,” and gently placed the iPad in her hands.  It wasn’t long before she, too, was giggling!  

BINGO having ended, other residents approached curiously but kept a respectful distance.  I invited them to come over and see what was so funny, and soon, there were 2-3 ladies laughing at the same time (and laughing harder when Tom surprised them by laughing back at them); they were delighted!

“What is that?”  “Who made that?”  “Is that a real picture in the background?!” 
(Their questions were so cute.)

[I’m serious when I tell you that I am choked up right now, writing this; to have been there to experience that was a gift.] 

A staff member began videotaping our little group of giggling cat lovers.  In regard to the woman on the couch with me, she exclaimed, “I’ve never heard her laugh like that!” 

They’d never heard her laugh like that! 
Because of a handful of sweet middle school kids and an iPad, those folks got some color in their cheeks and some good, healthy belly-laughs.

The kids all talked at once on the ride back to school…
“That was the best time ever! I totally want to do that again!”
“That lady made me feel like she was my grandma!”
“I had so much fun!”

We already have plans to return in a few weeks. 
And next time, I’m going to bring two iPads.

*Difference Makers is an after-school group that I have been trying to get off the ground. Right now, I only have six students, but with each week, we gain another one or two members. Our goal is to just have fun making a difference in our school and our community.  As you will see, we are having a lot of fun!

**Talking Tom is a virtual cat iPad application that blinks, purrs, and parrots everything you say to him.  When he purrs, you can feel the iPad vibrate a little. Because he mimics the user's voice with perfect clarity, this app is not only hilarious but also useful for working with students working on speech development.  

[Note: I wrote this as an email to some people at school; supporters of Difference Makers who I knew would appreciate it.  I also included some beautiful photos that I didn't feel comfortable sharing here without cropping them, for confidentiality reasons.  [To read more about Difference Makers, click here.]


  1. What an amazing opportunity for everyone involved!

  2. Looks like it was a great day. And I want to say "thank you" to you for making a difference in these people's lives. Thanks.

  3. I had tears in my eyes reading this. I worked in a nursing home for a couple of years. Thank you for bringing some sunshine into their day!
    If I had an iPad, I would sooo want that app to use in school. Wonder if the school would pay for it? (ha, ha!)

  4. What an incredible selfless act on behalf of the kids and you. I am so touched by this.

    Thank you for bringing sunshine into their day!


  5. Oh my gosh, I'm crying over here. Good for you and your students! That's GREAT!

  6. It was really no big sacrifice, just an hour of our day. All we did was show up and spend a little time with these people, and look what we got in return! :)

  7. We had a very positive iPad experience not so long ago- bridging the gap between my Grandma and my kids.


    I just love this club you've formed- it is totally the kind of club I would have joined when I was in school.

  8. You are damned amazing, and I am sure the kids are as well. What a great oppportunity for everyone.

  9. This was an awesome post, it is so uplifting and encouraging to read about teens who are choosing to make a difference in someone's life. I used to love to volunteer at the nursing home with our youth group when I was younger but there's no reason that I can't still go and volunteer. You and your Difference Makers have inspired me!

    Can't wait to tell Mr. Ski about Talking Tom...I think that would come in handy later on in his career. And we've already decided that an Ipad is going to be our Christmas present for each other!

    Loved reading...as always! And thank you for being such an encouraging role model!

  10. Great dea! Ipads are fabulous!! I bet my kids would love Tom!!

  11. This is awesome! What a wonderful thing for everyone involved. I hope that groups like this come to the assisted living facility that my grandma lives in in Massachusetts.

  12. It's amazing how being in service to others can make the giver feel so wonderful. Congratulations on another very successful day!

  13. thanks for sharing that story.
    The Ipad app sounds very interesting. It actually vibrates too? The exchange made me think of a scene were some lost tribe is introduced to a video camera or something modern. This shows how quickly technology leaps forward when you are not looking.
    The best part is getting some good laughter spreading through the place.

  14. This is fantastic! Wish I coulda been there... I can see why you and the kids want to return again and again! I am going to wait till the Ipad has a microphone etc, but it will be worth it to wait. You might take a Kindle too. I get all kinds of free games (not that I have played them yet) and free stuff like foreign language phrases... :)

  15. that's wonderful, I wish there was something like that here, my daughter is giving me a rough row right now and during a esp. bad moment I drug her to a house with a kid with two broken hands and grand ma with emphysema. The hysteria stopped immediately and she focused on some one else.What a difference it makes for the kids too.

  16. Magic Makers indeed. Those folks probably appreciated your visit more than you will ever know. I"m sure the staff appreciated it as well.

    I love Love LOVE this idea and especially that it is middle schoolers getting involved. I can't wait to see what other magic your group creates.

  17. Priceless! I love it! win win situation for all! Can't wait to hear about your next visit.

  18. That is so precious! What a beautiful thing to be a part of!

  19. WOW!

    The results of your efforts are exactly like the name of your group.

    The proof is in the pudding. Or in this case....the "laugh".

  20. I came back to share a funny youtube clip.
    This clip reminded me of this post.

    see if you had DISQUS you could view the clip right inside the comments.

  21. This is what it is all about! Your comment of" no sacrifice ... look wht we got in return" says it all.

    My mother in law was living with us earlier on. When we had to move for jobs she chose toreturn to her home town and is in an assisted living complex rather than move back with us. Her favorite time is when kids from the schools come to visit. She is mush more at home and comfortable with the younger generation than she is with her peers at hte complex. She can talk about anything with the kids and you make this happen for others: students and seniors as well. Kudos!!

    And yes, we have several areas of ocmmon interest. Check out the red bean soup I posted this week... it goes right in there with the Mex/Latin flavors, too!
    Happy Veterans'Day! Fly your flag!

  22. I really admire you and respect you for teaching these kids the importance of Volunteering!!! So amazing!!!

  23. What great lessons learned for young and old alike!


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