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Generation Rap : Education: Eight-graders learn lessons on life by visiting convalescent home.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Eighth-grader Marcelo Garcia took Evelyn Olinger by the hand Thursday and escorted the frail, tiny woman into the Torrance Care Center’s recreation room.

There, 60 of Marcelo’s classmates from Bert Lynn Middle School mingled and laughed with those many years their senior. It was the school’s fourth and last weekly visit to the convalescent home--and clearly many were enjoying it.

Side by side, the young and old played card games and table games. Christmas cards and gifts were exchanged. A student played an upright piano. And Olinger soaked it all in.

“Oh, yes, I love this,” said Olinger, whose response to those who ask her age is a simple “too old.”

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“The children liven this place up. It’s too dead otherwise. It’s nice to have somebody to walk with and talk to. I look forward to their coming around. They are a good bunch of boys and girls.”

The one-hour visits--they will be replaced with monthly visits--are the brainchild of Billie Jones, an eighth-grade English teacher at the school. Earlier this year, she was looking for something her students could write about when she struck on the idea of bringing them to the 99-bed facility, about a mile walk from the school.

“I thought this was a way the children could learn compassion while at the same time learning communication skills,” Jones said. “They have been writing poems for the patients, writing letters for them, interviewing them and writing stories. This has broadened their experiences and given them something about which they can write.”

Marcia Hawkins, the home’s activities director, said she accepted Jones’ proposal the minute she heard it. Only half of the home’s patients have regular visitors, and 10% have no visitors at all, she said.

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“This has been very good for the residents,” she said. “We have some high school seniors who come around and volunteer, but never any children this young. The patients become very enthused when they know the children are coming.”

Bruce Cameron, the home’s administrator, said the visits remind patients of when their children and grandchildren were young.

“They remember how much fun that was, and that’s important to them,” he said. “But this is also good for the kids. They learn that life isn’t all surf and beach.”

Frances Stone, 73, spent the hour being whizzed through the halls in her wheelchair by four boys, whom she entertained with a slightly risque poem about boys, girls, skirts and the wind.

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“These boys are all my friends,” said Stone, who has 10 children and 16 brothers and sisters. “I do like to have them come by, these boys and girls.”

Gloria Klemp, who wouldn’t give her age but said her oldest child is 47, had a group of children gathered around her wheelchair for an animated conversation about nothing in particular.

“These children make me feel better because they don’t look at me and make me feel as old as I am,” she said.

Kevin Shihadeh, 13, who was talking with Klemp, said he had only seen the inside of a convalescent home on television and probably never would have visited one except for Jones’ class. Now he’s glad he came.

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“When you get to know these people, you find out they are real nice,” he said.


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