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.]