Christmas music plays softly in a room at Youville Home while teens and seniors look through a bounty of decorations, making plans for what will soon be the room’s focal point: the Christmas tree.
“I look forward to Christmas every year, especially decorating the tree,” says resident Penny Stiksma, who came to Canada from Holland when she was three.
Having members from the community join long-term care residents to decorate is an annual tradition at Youville Home. It’s important for people living in care to continue participating in special traditions such as Christmas, because it brings up many happy memories, helps foster a connection to the community and helps build new relationships, says Kirsten Bone, a recreation attendant at Youville.
“At Christmas, there are a lot of traditions people have had in their past. Now that they’re living with us, it’s important for them to be able to carry on some of these traditions, like decorating Christmas trees,” says Kirsten.
On this day, Grade 9 girls from Vincent J. Maloney Catholic Junior High School worked with Youville residents to decorate Christmas trees around the site. The residents, many of whom are in wheelchairs, and the girls decide together where to place the ornaments for best effect.
Social engagement for Youville residents is important throughout the year but especially at Christmas, as it’s a time of year when people usually spend time with family, says Kirsten. Some residents may not have their friends and families close by, so taking part in activities or engaging with people from the community helps them enjoy the season and feel connected to others, she says.
The residents and teens love the results of their teamwork.
“The tree looks sensational now that it’s decorated,” says resident Lorna Greig. “It was an excellent idea to have these students come. I think it was a good experience for them.”
For some residents, the chance to connect with teens was most welcome.
“I enjoyed working with the students on the tree because they’re young, and I used to be young,” says Penny. “They’re a reminder of how exciting it all was when I was younger, especially the Christmas tree.”
The students enjoyed talking with the residents while they worked together.
“I liked spending time with the residents and decorating the Christmas tree because I got to interact with other people who have more stories to tell than I do,” says student Berkley Nielsen. “I love hearing their stories.”
And residents, like Penny, have plenty of stories, including remembering picking out her first Christmas tree in Canada. “Dad said, ‘Kids, what tree do you want?’ And we picked the tall one. It was 50 cents.”
About once a month, the students come to do a variety of activities and build relationships with the residents. The students will be back to sing carols and do crafts with the residents before their Christmas break.
For Penny, the visit also gave her a chance to share the meaning of Christmas with the students. “Above all it’s about baby Jesus. That’s the reason we have Christmas.”
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