Art brightens day for nursing home residents

J-M art students brighten day for nursing home residents

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For the second consecutive year, Jefferson-Morgan High School advanced art students brought comfort, joy and artwork to Rolling Meadows Nursing and Rehabilitation residents in Waynesburg.

Tuesday afternoon, the school van arrived with a troupe of young artists, each bearing a painting for someone they were about to meet for the first time.

“The students sent questionnaires a few months ago and we read them to our residents and got their answers, then sent them back,” activities director Sharon Jeffries said. As the residents, who were about to receive original art to brighten their walls, assembled in the dining hall, Jeffries reminded them of those questions they’d answered – “What was your favorite childhood toy? If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would it be? What is your favorite comic book or cartoon character? What was your occupation? Your favorite color?”

“This is our community project, and the kids love it,” art teacher Mike Lesko said. Last year’s painted ceiling tiles that brought art to 19 residents were already on display in various rooms. This year’s artwork would be easier to hang and any resident receiving one had a piece of art that was both beautiful and personal. Their answers to the questions students asked before painting were fixed to the back, part of the story of their lives, preserved to be passed on to their families.

April Ricci and her husband, Al, were there with their camera, ready to record the event before the van arrived at 1 p.m. “When my son A.J. found out that the person he chose was in the Polish army and was a folk dancer, he was excited and is really looking forward to meeting him,” April Ricci said.

A.J. was soon standing in the lobby with the rest of the students, waiting to be called in to make his presentation. His painting was a colorful rendering of two Polish folk dancers, lively against a white background. He was about to meet Casimire Poplawsky, be rewarded by the warmth of his richly accented thank you, then spend time talking to the man who had not only danced in his youth but had seen action in 1968 in the Polish army before moving to America.

“It’s beautiful,” Daunish Robinson declared, gazing wide-eyed at the glory of clouds that surrounded Heaven’s Gate, painted by Olivia Wagner. Around the room, flowers abounded, brightly painted in a variety of styles. An American flag filled one canvas, its folds making it appear not only three-dimensional, but almost as if it was moving in the breeze. A favorite toy train memory chugged forward trailing plumes of steam on one canvas, a white lighthouse emerged against a blue sky on another. There was a green John Deere tractor, a whitetail buck sporting a trophy rack and a perfectly rendered moth hovering against a background of grasses, as well. There were 14 paintings in all.

A few students left the dining room to deliver their work to those unable to leave their beds, while others lingered to talk to the new owners of their paintings before regrouping in the lobby for the drive back to school.

“I’ve learned so much about his life,” April Ricci said, returning from her trip down the hallway to return Poplawsky to his room. “He told me when he came to Chicago, he wanted to be a painter but couldn’t make a living so he became a truck driver. And he’s a photographer, too. We ended up talking about digital cameras. We’re definitely coming back here for Christmas with presents.”

Bringing presents to Rolling Meadows is part of the magic that comes with the season, Jefferies acknowledged. “The Moose and other groups and individuals are helping out with gifts and everyone gets something, including staff. Our big party is from 2 to 4 p.m. Friday and there will be three Santas to pass them out.”

As the students left, more presents began arriving in the dining room, wrapped and ready to go.

“Sharon Jefferies contacted us in early December and asked for our help to purchase presents for some nursing home residents,” Cumberland Mine Human Resources representative Jessica Wildman said. In a few short weeks, employees of Alpha Natural Resources, Cumberland Mine and PA Services Administrative Executive Office got busy holding gift basket raffles and taking donations of 13 lap throws.

Karen Zalom and Michelle Anderson of PA Services were there with Wildman to deliver the brightly wrapped throws and present Jefferies with a most welcomed envelope full of holiday cheer.

“My father was a resident for a while,” Zalom said, hugging Jefferies after Wildman presented her with the $1,110 raised from the raffles. “Now don’t forget about the party Friday,” Jefferies said. “We’re having refreshments and that include some specialty desserts. Everyone’s invited.”

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