Church group brings youth to elderly at Heritage Place

At first, the conversation was not going so well.


Jordynne Audette, 7, stared shyly at the floor, biting the tip of her index finger and fiddling with the long blue sleeves of her gown.

Fern Elam sat in her wheelchair, rocking back and forth slightly, chatting with Audette's companion, who smiled encouragingly and gestured for her to ask Elam a few questions.

"Um, are you having a good time today?" Audette said in a barely audible whisper.

"What was that dear?" Elam replied.

The conversation might have stopped there had one of the caretakers at the Heritage Place continuing care facility not stepped forward and mentioned that Elam was 101 years old. Audette's eyes shot up to Elam's face and her jaw dropped open. She moved closer to the aging resident, "How old are you?"

Similar interactions were repeated several times throughout the lunchroom Saturday where the Kings United Princesses Serving held a tea party and 13 women dressed as princesses and queens served snacks and tea to residents at the Heritage Place facility.

About 30 of the Heritage Place's 50 or so residents sat in groups at tables around the room, each with a teacup in front of them. Several wore tiaras or held flowers the princesses offered alongside their bright gold platters of cookies and cheerily mismatched teapots.

"They love it," said Sherry Martinovich, an employee in the activities department at the Heritage Place. "There's just that glow. The interaction with youth is always energizing. Sometimes you see, in both ends of the spectrum, the awe, and that's wonderful."

Martinovich said when the KUPS group contacted her she knew attention from the kids would be good for the residents.

"It makes their day," she said. "People know that they're here and they're important in so many lives. Sometimes they don't see a lot of children, so bringing that youth, that energy into the facility is always really exciting for the residents."

After spending nearly an hour circling the room, Audette nibbled on a cookie and said she'd figured out how to get the residents to talk to her by "being really nice."

Elam, who said she used to volunteer with school-aged children, sat in her chair, wearing a gold-sequined tiara and laughing as she watched the young girls circling the room. 

"I think they're so cute," she said.

The event was a little chaotic behind the scenes as organizer Charlene Moore, or "Miss Char" to the young princesses, scrambled to organize her charges into two "kingdoms" so they could serve the room in sections.

Moore said it was the group's inaugural public tea and several "Queens" who are normally tasked with being overseers of the younger princesses had been unable to make it out to the event. As she stacked cookies in the kitchen, occasionally stopping to rearrange a ribbon on someone's costume or answer a question from a young volunteer, Moore smiled and apologized for being so flustered.

"The group just started. February was our kickoff," Moore said. "So we just had to put this together the best we could and I think that the residents are enjoying themselves and I think the girls are enjoying themselves."

Members of KUPS will meet seven times a year for tea parties and group meetings with a break during the summer for community service events, she said.

Each of the girls volunteering for the day wore an elaborately adorned gown which Moore makes for all of the members.

As she introduced each girl to the room, she laughed and said she didn't actually know how to sew.

"I'm pretty handy with a glue gun and hand stitching, so that's what you're seeing here," she said. "So if we drop part of our dress on the floor please bear with us."

Moore, wearing her own green and gold gown, stopped at several tables to greet residents before stepping away to survey the scene.

The group has several other community service activities planned for the summer, but Moore said volunteering with the elderly was close to her heart.

"I would have loved to do this when I was a little girl," she said. "I didn't co-mingle with seniors until I was 15 and I would go to the senior citizen home in a little town and I would play piano. It probably sounded terrible but they thought it was wonderful and they would clap. It was just amazing to me and I think it's sad more people don't do that."
She said she hopes the young volunteers would take a life lesson away from the event as well.

"I'm hoping that this particular type of interaction is going to let them know that we're always changing on the outside but we should be changing on the inside for the better," she said. "I want girl to know, when they look in the mirror, I want them to see beauty but I want them to focus on the inner beauty. To not be robbed of the joy that they get from doing this, from serving other people and serving one another."

Rashah McChesney can be reached at