Our Lady Queen of Peace Students Spreading Joy to the Elderly

Queen of Peace School first-grader Eddie Brownfield reads to a client at All In 4 You in Belleville. Students from Michelle Gregory’s class regularly visit the day care center to interact with people suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia (Submitted photo).

Eating lunch or being excused for recess with their classmates might be the favorite parts of the day for many elementary-school students.

But first-graders in Michelle Gregory’s class at Our Lady Queen of Peace School in Belleville also are enjoying the periodic bus rides that dispatch them to All In 4 You, an adult day-care center located about five miles from the school.

Once a month, that’s where they’re putting smiles on the faces and joy in the hearts of elderly adults, including those battling Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

The students read books to the clients and work with them on craft activities. They enjoy music together, and sometimes the 6- and 7-year-olds bring presents that were made during class.

“It is very meaningful to me. I’m touched that we get to spend time with them,” said Gregory, whose father, Jim Clutter, 85, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about one year ago and spends six to eight hours a week at All In 4 You.

Gregory’s mother, Mary Clutter, is the primary caregiver for Jim. She is comforted by the fact that Jim is in a safe place while she takes care of errands that are difficult to complete when Jim is around.

“This activity is very important,” Mary said. “I believe the children are benefiting because they get to interact with seniors and learn how to give to others. I also believe the seniors are benefiting because they can enjoy the enthusiasm the children possess and can appreciate that the children are caring and giving to them.

“It’s awesome what those first-graders are doing for seniors at All In 4 You. I’m very proud of Michelle.”

Gregory came up with the plan to unite the kids with the adults during the summer, then discussed it with Queen of Peace Principal Mary Tidwell in August.

“I thought it was a wonderful idea,” Tidwell said. “It’s great for the kids to get over there and work with the people. The kids don’t know what Alzheimer’s is; the kids don’t know what dementia is. But it’s great to see the joy on the older folks’ faces when the kids are reading stories to them, or when they’re making crafts with them. These kids give them something to look forward to.”

There are other benefits.

“We teach the kids about kindness and how Jesus treated others, and how Jesus treated those that were sick or those that were less fortunate. This is them actually getting to be like Jesus and help these people that are sick or don’t have family around them. We’re putting what we teach into actual practical use.

“I hope they’re learning it’s important to take care of our elderly people. That’s what we want. We want to love them and cherish them.”

The kids have no complaints.

“I like to do the art stuff, It’s really fun,” said Lincoln Campo, 7, adding that his favorite part about visiting the folks at All In 4 You is “getting them to do the crafts.”

Tidwell said the first-graders are always eager to help any way they can. Working with the elderly is an extension of what they do every day at Queen of Peace.

“Even if a teacher drops a pencil on the floor, they’re racing over there to pick it up,” Tidwell said. “They’re learning that not only are they getting out of school for half of a day and leaving here on a bus, they’re helping someone. They’re helping make someone happy. That’s all they want to do.

“We always hear about kids going to nursing homes to sing, which is wonderful. With this, they’re interacting with (the elderly). They get to talk to the kids and the older people get to tell them stories: ‘Back when I was your age …’ So it takes on another dimension when there’s that one-on-one interaction between the adults and the kids.”

Caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s and dementia can be overlooked. Until a family experiences a loved one being affected by either condition, it’s impossible to explain the issues it creates.

Alzheimer’s patients, for example, might recognize family members and be able to interact with them for a few years after the onstart of the disease. But remembering how to perform simple tasks they’ve done all their lives becomes impossible as the condition worsens.

Things like recalling a phone number, balancing a checkbook, working a puzzle and naming the current president of the United States are typically a major challenge.

More and more, caregivers must keep a close eye on their loved one. It occupies every waking moment, creating stress and, of course, sadness if there is any time to reflect.

That’s why it’s important for Mary Clutter to get away for time to decompress. And if her husband is being cared for and enjoying his time at All In 4 You, it’s a win-win situation.

“Recharging my battery is extremely important,” Mary said. “With the recharge, I have time to relax. I am much more patient, understanding. And it helps reduce stress. I have time to run errands, visit with friends and have ‘me’ time, which can be very difficult when I am the primary caregiver.

Gregory is pleased to see her mom receive some down time, particularly if Jim is happy interacting with the kids and other clients at All In 4 You.

“It’s great knowing he’s going to a good place,” Gregory said. “He loves to go; he never fights going at all. It’s encouraging for mom that she doesn’t have to force him to go. He’s happy, she’s happy, we’re all happy.”

Mary said her faith “is very important to me.” It helps her from being overwhelmed by her situation and maintains the joy that lives in her heart.

“I believe God never gives us a situation without giving us the necessary grace, strength and help we need,” Mary said. “He is always there and with us. Therefore, I know God will give me whatever I need during this part of my journey with Jim.”

All In 4 U is located at 315 Sherman St. in Belleville. If you have a loved one who could benefit from the services they provide for elderly people, including those afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, or if you have general questions, please call co-owner Melanie O’Connell at 618-416-4040.