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Stories that matter
"I’ll never forget you, Hunter. Promise me that you will never forget me.”
As I watched Willard pull my 8-year-old son close for a hug and whisper these words to him, I couldn’t help but feel a little overwhelmed by the moment. And that was just one of many I experienced last Sunday where I was reminded of the power of one small voice.
The story actually starts two years ago, when my now 10-year-old daughter, Olivia, went with her 4-H club to put on a fun carnival for the residents of Maple Point Assisted Living Facility in Monticello. I remember spending most of that day keeping our baby occupied while the kids played games with the residents. However, in the chaos, I did notice that Olivia had a particular gift for connecting with the residents. So much so that she told me that she didn’t want that to be the last day that she saw her new friend, Paula. She wanted to go back and write her letters.
So she did. I watched a special bond form between the two as they shared their love for animals. We stopped by on occasion and sent letters. During that same first year of 4-H she took a project called “Walk In My Shoes” where she learned about the differences between her generation and older generations. She chose to do her project on her great grandma, Ruthie. Around this time, Grandma Ruthie had to give up her independent living on her own to move into a nursing home. This was a difficult time in Grandma Ruthie’s life and Olivia was very worried about her great grandma.
Getting to know new friends at Maple Point helped both of us adjust. And it reminded me of the important job that we have to take care of the elderly. During her second year of 4-H, Olivia took the Service Learning: Agents of Change project and decided to find a way to help her friends out at Maple Point even more – beyond the annual carnival.
She wanted to make blankets for everyone at Maple Point to remind them that others care for them. And in the process, help connect at an even deeper level with the residents there. She created a plan…a plan that cost nearly $500 and would require many hours of work. Realistically, she would need help to complete it. With support from her 4-H Youth Development Educator Jamie Boas, she made a pitch for financial support to the Champaign County Extension Education Foundation and was overjoyed when they donated $250 to her “Blanket Buddies” project. She then asked her 4-H Club to help with the remaining costs to make the blankets and assist in the blanket-making and distributing effort.
After completing 34 blankets last May, Olivia helped organize a one-hour event at Maple Point this fall to present the blankets. With the help of Stacy Cribbs, Maple Point’s activity director, and her fellow 4-H club members, they had a special 4-H display the week before the event to showcase their projects and bring a little “county fair” to the residents.
In addition to giving the blankets out at the event, 4-H members also shared about their projects that had been on display, served cookies and punch to their new friends, and simply spent time visiting and getting to know them.
As a mom, there is no greater feeling than to see your children love on others. I watched Olivia lead the presentation, speaking with such grace and compassion for her age. She floated around the room engaging the residents and encouraging some of her friends who were a little nervous at first, but quickly warmed up and made new friends. My son met a true friend in Willard who had a fantastic time telling Hunter old stories. The smiles on both of their faces were priceless. And perhaps one of my favorite memories of the day was watching my husband take our 2 ½-year old daughter, Harper, over to spend time with Helen. Helen was a sweet lady that we had met when Olivia first met Paula. She is blind, so understandably some of our activities were harder for her to experience in the same way the others did. Harper sat by Helen and stroked her hand. They even held hands for some time. Dan said Helen couldn’t get over how soft and little Harper’s hands were.
Before we left, we encouraged the 4-H members to be pen pals with one of their new friends they had met that day. Nearly 2/3 of the residents were paired up with a 4-H member who will write them letters and invest in their lives in some small way. I watched kids step out of their comfort zone and connect with these elderly friends in ways I never imagined. It was a day full of huge smiles, lots of laughter, a few tears, and experiences that will touch these childrens’ lives forever.
I think the best part of 4-H is that it opens doors, creates opportunities, and helps our young people do things they may never do otherwise. That $250 investment from the Champaign County Extension Education Foundation did far more than bless 34 residents of Maple Point on Sunday. I’m not sure anyone walked away unchanged.
PS – We will never forget you, Willard. Your letter is on its way. Thanks for caring about my son and showing him that his story matters. Yours does, too.
Hunter Shike presents a blanket from the Sadorus All-Stars 4-H Club to his new friend Willard.
4-H alum Dan Shike and his future 4-H'er, Harper, spend time with Helen.
Olivia shares her "Blanket Buddies" story with the residents of Maple Point Assisted Living Facility.