A few local teens are spending days after school and on weekends hanging out, playing games and dancing with some of their older friends.
The fun takes place at Ganzhorn Suites, a memory-care assisted-living facility on Sawmill Parkway in Powell that serves residents with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.
The volunteer program is supervised by Terri Glimcher, who has been working in the field for 25 years and at Ganzhorn since it opened four years ago.
"It's not the norm for kids to want to spend their free time at the old folks' home," Glimcher said, only half-joking, "when there are so many other things they could be doing."
Glimcher said students from Olentangy Liberty High School, Hyatts Middle School, Bishop Watterson High School and others are among the volunteers. Some of them, she said, come with their families, but most arrive on their own, whenever they are able.
"It becomes so much more than just doing your service hours," said Chandler Meyer, a 17-year-old senior at Liberty. "You're giving so much, and you end up getting something back."
Glimcher said despite the residents' difficulties -- which can, at times, be difficult to overcome -- having young people in particular spend time with them, one-on-one or in small groups, adds value to their lives.
"Lack of memory doesn't mean lack of value," Glimcher said. "I'm always out there in the community saying, 'You can't forget about these people.' "
The life lessons for the young volunteers are both obvious and unexpected. The teens form relationships with residents, which gives them windows into some of the things residents' family members must cope with, Glimcher said.
"They see what decline, what support, what love look like," she said. "They're going to experience end-of-life situations."
To that end, Glimcher provides training that lasts as long as each volunteer wants, plus ongoing support throughout the volunteer's time at Ganzhorn. In many ways, she becomes a mentor to the teens, not just regarding memory-care volunteering but also in other areas of their lives.
But it is the relationships built that keep the young volunteers returning, the students said.
"I thought it might be a little scary, but the more you build relationships, the more you're drawn in by the people," said 16-year-old Isabella Prok, a junior at Liberty. "I had been coming, and knew (a resident named Delores Lopresti) for a few months before she started to recognize my face. It was the best thing ever."
"I wasn't sure how I would handle it, but I like to play games, and so does (a resident named) Maxine, so we just gravitated toward each other," said Brooke Fabiano, a 16-year-old junior at Liberty.
The volunteers help with recruiting, too. Adam Rahl, a 14-year-old Liberty junior who is early in his training, called Prok "a walking commercial" for the volunteer program at Ganzhorn.
"There's a particular resident, if she's having a bad day, I'll call Isabella and see if she can come in," Glimcher said. "It's hard to say what's going to click with people who have memory issues. We use aromatherapy, music ... but one-on-one contact with people can really make a difference."
"Sometimes, if I'm having a bad day, someone will tell me I look beautiful or that I'm so successful," said Prok, who recently was given a Teen Volunteer of the Year award from the Ohio Healthcare Association.
"The residents sang to me on my birthday. There's a lot of love here."
"I call (a resident named) Barbara my grandma -- she relates to me as if I was a family member," Meyer said.
Memory loss is difficult on residents' real families, but most are happy whenever their loved ones make a connection or have a memory triggered of any kind.
Emerson Laird, whose wife lives at Ganzhorn, said he can see the interaction with the young volunteers when he attends dances or other events. It's a struggle to watch her changing, he said, adding the volunteers can make a difference in quality of life.
Glimcher said there are practical applications for some volunteers as well. Both Fabiano and Prok have family members experiencing memory loss.
"They're learning how to deal with making this journey," Glimcher said. "They see how it affects a family, what it means to be a family with this disease."
"There's love and there's empathy," Fabiano said. "We're learning things that are valuable not only here -- things like how to give love and how to receive love and take that out and share it with other people."