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South Jordan Journal

Putting a face on history: teenagers volunteer for senior citizens

May 30, 2018 11:55AM ● By Keyra Kristoffersen

Kelsey Nevin and Kayla Leigh are recognized for their volunteer efforts with Sagewood residents. (Keyra Kristoffersen /City Journals)

By Keyra Kristoffersen | [email protected] 

Kelsey Nevin and Kayla Leigh, along with other volunteers who help around Sagewood at Daybreak, are being honored by the retirement facility for their service efforts.

“Originally, it started out that we were just coming here an hour at a time to get our service, but then we really enjoyed coming each time, so we came back again and again, even though we had our hours just because we built a relationship with the ladies,” said Leigh, a 15-year-old student at Copper Mountain Middle School. 

Leigh and Nevin are part of the National Junior Honor Society, a school program for sixth- through ninth-graders that requires a 3.5 GPA in honors classes as well as meeting requirements in service, meaning 10 hours per quarter. Leigh estimates they have closer to 50 hours since they started in September 2017 meeting the residents at the Thursday craft class run by Kelsey Meha the activities director. 

“It's really helpful because I can have two other hands for one-on-one with other ladies,” said Meha. “I can't get around to all of them sometimes, but also they tend to form friendships with the ladies, which is really sweet.”

Nevin and Leigh said they have spent time at the community helping with painting, gluing and making candle holders and dreamcatchers. When they aren’t needed for crafting, they will often help with decorating for holidays or setting up other activities. 

“You'll be having the worst day or a really hard week, and you come here, and you just forget about all the bad stuff that's going on,” said Nevin, who also plays basketball and the piano. “These ladies are just so happy; they make you laugh and you just forget.” 

Leigh enjoys the feeling of serving and listening while helping the residents.

“I think there's something you get out of service,” said Leigh. “It gives you an opportunity to not think about yourself and really think about others and for you to reflect.”

Nevin recalls the time her grandparents spent in assisted living and being at Sagewood brings back good memories while giving her an activity her parents are pleased about and an opportunity to hear interesting stories, learn about the changes over the last decades and gain new friends.

“Once you come, you’re family,” said Nevin.

Both students have plans to continue volunteering throughout the summer and into high school because, they said, not only is it a bright spot to their week, but the stories they hear are incredible. There are stories of a now 93-year-old resident who would travel the world taking pictures and getting ideas for wedding dresses that she could recreate for friends and family members or brothers who helped transport the atomic bomb by plane to its destination before it was sent to Hiroshima, Japan. There are stories of growing up in World War II, when fathers and brothers left, and some didn’t return.

“I think you don't realize ‘oh that's in the history book; that's in the past,’ but you put a face to the events,” said Leigh. “These people sacrificed so I can be here. I feel like we can learn so much about the past and about the future these ladies.” 

Leigh’s mother’s family were killed in concentration camps, and her grandparents live in the Netherlands. But helping at Sagewood has given her the opportunity to feel closer to them. 

“To hear stories like that, oh my husband fought or my brothers fought, it makes me grateful because they went and fought for people they didn't know,” said Leigh. “I'm going to be here for you guys because you were there for my family.”