A Timeless Bond in Battle Creek: Students, residents form friendships during visits to care center

A Timeless Bond in Battle Creek: Students, residents form friendships during visits to care center

By Tyler Dahlgren

It didn’t feel anything like spring in Battle Creek this morning, as temperatures stuck to the wrong side of 40 and a soft rain fell from the dark gray sky.

Saturday morning, this town of 1,200 people will hold its annual Easter Egg Hunt. Every kid in Battle Creek under the age of eight will soon be in an excited frenzy, searching frantically for candy-stuffed, brightly-colored plastic eggs.

Remember the thrill of a well-executed Easter egg hunt? Those were the days.

But my Monday morning was just kind of cold and dreary, and as I stepped inside the Community Pride Care Center at about 8:30, the reprieve of summer was squarely on my mind.

If I was looking for sunshine, and, trust me, it was nowhere to be found outside, I’d come to the right place.

You ever wonder who takes the time to put each individual piece of candy into each egg?

If you’re from Battle Creek and looking for the answer to that very question, then you’ve come to the right place.

Battle Creek’s eighth-graders, all of them, waited cheerfully beside three long tables set up near the care center’s chapel. Some were seated, and some stood. Candy, gummy bears, bubble gum and plastic eggs were scattered in several assembly stations along the table.

The students were ready to get started, but they were waiting for their friends to finish up breakfast in the dining hall. One by one, nursing home residents arrived, finding open spots amongst familiar faces.

“Walking in, and seeing the residents smile when they see us, that’s the best part,” said student Meghan McCracken. “Seeing them happy makes us happy.”

History teacher Teresa Christensen has been taking eighth-graders to Community Pride for about seven years now. She coordinates visits with Community Pride Activities Director Katie Hood, usually one a month, and always on holidays.

Students match up with a particular resident, and the friendships that are formed are Christensen’s favorite part of the experience. The visits started with her daughter’s class. Now a college junior, her daughter wants to pursue a career in geriatric care. Christensen thinks that first visit may have something to do with that.

“By the end of the year, the conversations they are having with the residents, it is just a true friendship,” she said. “It is really a neat thing to see. It’s very special to watch the kids grow throughout the year.”

There’s something special about a friendship that transcends age. Her students are often fascinated by their conversations with the residents.

“There are some Veterans here, and they tell the kids about their experiences,” Christensen said. “Some of them are old football players, and during football season they really love to talk to the boys about the ‘good ole’ days’. The kids love hearing those stories.”

McCracken and her classmates only have two months left of eighth-grade, though many of Christensen’s former students continue to visit Community Pride after moving on to high school, but valuing those conversations is a piece of advice she would give to incoming classes.

“Really listen to what they have to say,” McCracken said. “They’re not that much different than us. Make it memorable, because it goes fast.”

Keisha Nelson is seated at the table next to McCracken. Her grandma is a resident at the nursing home, and she cherishes these moments of companionship.

“When we come to give them cards or just to visit, and see their smiles and how much happier it makes them, because some of them don’t have family around here, I think that is the most rewarding part,” Nelson said.

In December, she remembers giving a Christmas card to a resident, and the following reaction that will live with her forever.

“They had a tear in their eye, because they didn’t have family around,” Nelson said, before offering her advice to future visitors. “When you do make cards for them, put a lot of effort into it. It means a lot to them.”

While the Christmastime visit is one of the highlights of the year, Christensen makes a concerted effort to do something special in January.

“All their families come right at Christmas and then they have a dead spot,” she said. “We try to do a big activity in January, because a lot of them don’t have people close by. We are the closest thing they have.”

Hood has been at Community Pride for three years, and is in her first as Activities Director. She is in constant communication with Christensen, as the two work together to line up visits and plan activities.

Battle Creek’s students make an impact on the residents, and Hood hopes they know it.

“I am sure there might be days where this isn’t the first thing they would want to do, but when they get here, they are kind and motivated, and the residents just absolutely love it,” Hood said. “We have residents that come out to these visits that don’t come out to other activities. They really look forward to the kids coming.”

Companionship is a powerful thing, and it brightened a rather muggy Monday in March. As friends laughed and chatted, and stuffed eggs with candy in between, Christensen looked on with a smile.

“It is important that we give back,” the teacher said. “These are the people that established our community, and we need to give back to them and thank them for everything they’ve done for us.”

When the Battle Creek vans rolled into the Community Pride parking lot, you may as well forgotten age.

Forget about old and forget about young.

Friendship does.