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

Chase Youth Award honors St. John Vianney fourth graders’ service

by Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor, Inland Register

(From the April 7, 2011 edition of the Inland Register)

Theresa Hughes’ fourth grade class at St. John Vianney School are recipients of this year’s Spirit of Jim Chase Award. (IR photo courtesy of Dean Loberg)

The 20-member fourth grade class at St. John Vianney School, Spokane Valley, was among the honorees at the 2011 Chase Youth Awards at the Fox Theater in Spokane Sunday, March 13.

The students and their teacher, Theresa Hughes, were acclaimed for their volunteer work with the residents of Sunshine Gardens nursing home in Spokane Valley.

The annual Chase Youth Awards are given in recognition of the “best and the brightest” among young people in Spokane. The class received the “Spirit of Jim Chase (group) Award.”

Susan Lawrence has been working at Sunshine for 24 years, most recently as activities director. “We don’t have exact knowledge,” Lawrence said, but the best guess is that Hughes has been bringing students to interact with Sunshine residents for about 13 years now.

Hughes – besides being the fourth grade teacher, she’s also a qualified bus driver – brings the children nearly every week, for an hour on Friday morning. The children visit, sing, and do projects. “The benefit has been colossal,” said Lawrence, “both for the residents, and a remarkable experience for the children.”

The visitation is part of the classroom curriculum on service to the community, said Hughes. For their part, the residents are “overjoyed” when her “little ducklings” come to visit.

The ongoing project fits in with religion program as well as the school’s mission statement: “St. John Vianney School, a ministry of St. John Vianney Parish, is a Catholic Community committed to creating a learning environment that encourages students to be faithful and active Catholics who strive to know and serve God by knowing and serving others.”

The students “love it,” said Hughes. “We practice songs before we go. They love to sing songs with the elderly from long ago. They get very disappointed when we can’t go,” she said.

Gordon, a 100-year-old resident of Sunshine Gardens, is one of the students’ favorites. (IR photo courtesy of Dean Loberg)

Some residents are favorites. And since it is a ministry to the elderly, there are those times when a resident passes away between weekly visits from the class.

“It’s very hard” for the students to accept sometimes, said Hughes. It becomes a teachable moment: “we are all born, we all die. We have to talk about that with the kids.”

The first encounters with residents can be somewhat frightening for the children as well. It becomes part of the education process.

“I enjoy the kids’ reaction. It brings a lot of joy to me – what the fourth graders do to brighten the lives of the elderly,” she said. “It makes my day, helping and serving, putting a smile on someone’s face.”

The interaction, said Law-rence, is “life-giving” and is frequently deeply touching.

Each year, she said, parents come in to decorate their child’s desk for Valentine’s Day as a surprise. The students came in to visit the residents that day, “and they brought all of that with them to give to the residents,” she said, which she attributed to “Theresa’s skill in teaching about the gift of giving. There was not a dry eye in the house.”

At the end of each year, the students are given certificates of appreciation by Sunshine Gardens.

Some of the students continue the service after they’ve moved on in their education. Some come back to Sunshine years later to volunteer. “It does go further,” said Hughes, “into the future.”

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