Helping America's Most Vulnerable

Action Teams Join Seniors

Synergy in motion
“The young people are members of the Action Team at Thornton Academy,” she explains. Thornton is a private school for grades six through 12, located right across the street from Hazelton House. “They’ve been making the House a focus of their volunteer work for some time now. In February, for example, they helped us with our Valentine’s Day party, offering beautiful flowers, gift packs, and a live performance of songs by a troupe of really good, very moving singers.” Denise adds that some of the same singers also performed in Thornton’s production of Phantom of the Opera in April — and invited the House residents, who greatly enjoyed the show.

“They made our Valentine’s Day party a very lively, happy event,” she says. “It really changed the whole dynamic for older people who might be lonely or have lost a spouse into an uplifting celebration of life with younger people. It was genuinely touching.” 

Many ways to make a difference
According to Denise, the Action Team also does a variety of other things at the House. “They came over and set up our Wii system, for example, right out of the box, so the residents could play games on the TV screen,” she says. “And they show up regularly for our bingo nights, joining the games and bringing fresh energy. The residents say it’s really fun and makes it even more enjoyable for them.”

Thornton’s Action Team is active in the wider community as well. “They’ve collected cell phones to donate to the Southern Maine Agency on Aging [for reprogramming as emergency phones for the elderly],” says Denise, “offered free babysitting at PTA meetings, and collected food for the homeless. They’re terrific!”

A helping hand
Denise says the team has 20 to 25 members plus two coordinators, staff members at Thornton, who have been very receptive to what the House needs. “We had an annual yard sale here not long ago,” says Denise, “and at the end of the day the kids boxed things up when the residents were tired and helped us close the sale down.”

“To me,” she concludes, “the best part is seeing the interaction between the generations. I mean, these people often differ in age by many decades! But there they are, learning from each, enriching each other’s lives, almost becoming substitute grandparents and grandchildren for each other — and also just having warm exchanges between people who simply happen to be different ages. It’s a beautiful thing!”

As the Resident Service Coordinator, Denise helps residents get the services they need, helping them complete forms, obtain referrals to outside agencies, and planning educational programs that support their wellness and independence. She has a master’s in social work and has been working with seniors for almost 10 years. She moved to Maine in the mid-1980s after finishing college and lives in York County with her family.