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Students, seniors create meaningful bonds

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PERFORMERS: Third-graders from St. Didacus School, including Elizabeth Holmes and Gavri Shue, sang and danced April 23 for the senior residents at Nazareth House San Diego. (Credit: Andy Hayt)

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SAN DIEGO — Thanks to a recent field trip to Nazareth House San Diego, an assisted living facility run by the Sisters of Nazareth, 9-year-old Elizabeth Holmes has a new friend who is about 10 times her age.

Elizabeth was one of about 10 third-graders from St. Didacus School who visited the elderly residents of Nazareth House on April 23, accompanied by their principal and three chaperones.

During their visit, which lasted more than an hour, the students and the approximately 20 residents each took time to introduce themselves. The students also sang, danced and played games with the seniors.

“The residents were excited and happy to see our students and to hear about what they like about school,” said Principal Kim James. “They also shared their own experiences; some of them were former teachers themselves.”

James said that the students were “so surprised” to learn that some of the residents were in their 90s.

Among those residents was the one whom Elizabeth now refers to as “my friend.”

Within days of the school visit, Elizabeth returned to Nazareth House to drop off a letter and an art project as a gift for her newfound friend. The latter reciprocated by mailing her a thank-you card and a holy card of St. Therese of Lisieux.

“I felt really happy, and I wrote her a letter back,” Elizabeth said, recalling her reaction to the surprise that she received in the mail.

“Now, we’re pen pals,” she said.

Accompanied by one of her parents, Elizabeth has returned to Nazareth House three times since the official school trip, most recently on June 2.

The initial visit in April was organized by St. Didacus School’s Catholic Action Program, which is run by school parents and provides service opportunities throughout the year for students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

James told The Southern Cross that her hope for events like these is for participating students “to feel the value of bringing joy to others.”

“Our students enjoy these connections,” she said, “and it also helps to guide them on how to be respectful and helpful.”

Of the recent visit to Nazareth House, James said, “I believe the interaction between generations is so powerful … It’s another opportunity to create bonds for both our students and the residents.”

Ariana Bagramova, activities director at Nazareth House, also sees such events are mutually enriching for participants at both ends of the age spectrum.

“The residents get the lively energy that the students have to offer. … This energy lifts up their spirits and stays with them,” she said.

At the same time, she said, “These visits are beneficial for the students because the seniors have so much wisdom to pass on to them, and their collaboration can result in strong, meaningful bonds.”

Amber Zendejas, director of admissions for Nazareth House, said, “Our seniors find joy listening, observing and interacting with the children to get to know each of their individual and energetic personalities.”

“Whether they are playing a ball game with the children, watching them perform, or immersed in a one-on-one conversation, the residents are completely captivated and living in that present moment,” said Zendejas. “For those 60 minutes, they forget about their aches and pains or any worries they might have and just soak in the love and joy that children bring to this world.”

For more information, visit nazarethhousesd.org.

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