Published on April 06, 2012

Music, Fifth Graders Speak To Westwing Residents

DEWITT, Iowa -- The magic of music cast a spell over Westwing Place.

Toes tapped, residents “danced” with fifth graders from their wheelchairs, and smiles slowly came to their faces as they re-lived memories from a song being played.

The Party of Four quartet of saxophone players, led by Genesis employee Danelle Kvapil, spoke the universal language -- music -- to residents of one of Iowa’s top-rated nursing homes.

“There are going to be days in a senior facility that seem long and the residents may feel blue. Music makes it all go away,’’ explained Melodie Schutt, activities manager for Westwing Place.

Party of Four, made up of Kvapil, Jennifer Krogmeier, Scott Angelici and Julie Craighead, was in tune with its Westwing audience. The quartet’s music included: “It Might As Well Be Spring’’ from the movie “State Fair;” “Fly Me To The Moon;’’ Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies;” and, the Gershwins’ “Our Love Is Here To Stay.”

But it wasn’t only the music that made the day brighter. Angela Hofer’s class of fifth graders from Central Intermediate School certainly helped during one of their regular visits to Westwing.

The teacher has been taking her classes to Westwing Place for seven years. Her classes have been adopted by Westwing Place. At least once a month, the kids arrive to interact with the residents. They play video games, make crafts and sometimes just talk with residents.

For some of the kids, it’s a chance to see their great-grandmother or grandfather. In a community the size of DeWitt, it isn’t unusual for them to know one of the residents. Hofer’s students come back on weekends, breaks and in the summer to visit. Some of her past students have returned as Westwing volunteers.

“They get so much out of it,’’ Hofer said of her students. “I have had students in the past, not this year, who seemed to fight me on a lot of things. None of my students have ever fought me on coming to Westwing. They look forward to it.’’

The Central Intermediate students aren’t reluctant to sit down to talk with a resident or do activities their peers might not consider very cool, such as dancing at the front of the room to music that is 70 or 80 years old.

“The kids learn history from talking with the residents; they learn compassion and generosity,’’ Schutt said. “For some of these kids, this might be the only interaction they have with people from this generation.’’

Westwing Place has been nationally recognized for its quality of care. Schutt credits the facility’s outstanding reputation to a staff that regards the residents as family. “This is not a care facility. It’s home for our residents, but it’s also home for our staff and volunteers,’’ Schutt said. “I’d like to think the fifth graders feel the same way.’’

It’s pretty obvious they do.

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