Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

‘The children always bring treats, but the best treat is just them being here’

Story and photo by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the Feb. 23, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)

Fifth graders at St. John Vianney School, Spokane Valley, make valentines for and with the seniors of Sunshine Gardens, a residential care facility near the school. (IR photo)

It can be easy to “do good” once, twice, or even a few times. But sticking to it year after year is another thing entirely.

For five years now, Theresa Hughes, fourth grade teacher at St. John Vianney School in Spokane Valley, has been helping her classes learn to be of service to others. Once each month, her fourth graders crowd into a van that rolls over to Sunshine Gardens, a residential care facility not far from the school.

On the second Friday in February, a cold, sunny day, the fourth graders troop through the front doors of Sunshine Gardens with some sunshine of their own. They file into a large activity room filled with grandparent- and great-grandparent-aged men and women who are ready for action.

“The children always bring treats,” says one lady, “but the best treat is just them being here.”

First, the girls and boys sing a few songs, a student holding up large sheets of paper with the lyrics for all to see and sing along. Valentine’s Day will be here soon, so that’s the theme for the day.

With the songs still hanging in the air, the youngsters begin handing out Valentine cupcakes baked by parents. That done, the surrogate grandchildren find places at the tables and begin to help the residents make their own Valentine cards. Nodding toward a lady dozing in her wheelchair at his table, one boy asks an employee, “What’s her name?” He calls to her softly, thinking maybe she’ll wake up and get involved. Also, he wants to get it right on the card he’s making for her.

Soon the room is buzzing with activity, boys and girls putting their heads together with heads many years older than their own, Valentine’s Day projects taking shape in good order with scissors, glue, and brightly colored paper.

“This program benefits the residents” of Sunshine Gardens, says activities director Susan Lawrence, “by providing interaction with energetic youth. It benefits the children by giving a positive perspective on aging. Theresa Hughes is very innovative, and when finances threatened the program, the students organized fund-raisers by babysitting, recycling, and collecting donations. I could fill a page with the positive experiences we’ve had with this program.”

There are wars and rumors of wars in some places in the world. But at Sunshine Gardens, in Spokane Valley, there is joy, and healing, and love. And if Theresa Hughes, fourth grade teacher at St. John Vianney Catholic School, has her way, this is the way it will be for years and years to come.

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