Program builds bridges to span generations

Bessie's Hope coordinates visit between middle schoolers, seniors with memory loss


First, you take your partner's hand and look him or her in the eye. Next, you introduce yourself. Then, you ask for their name. Last, you give a compliment.

These are the guidelines of Bessie's Hope, a program that brings generations together by coordinating visits between volunteers and seniors in assisted living homes. Linda Holloway started the foundation in 1994 after her grandmother, Bessie, with whom she had a close relationship with, moved into a nursing home.

“These people didn't wake up one morning and say, 'I'm going to live in a nursing home,'” said Holloway, who lives in Thornton. “It helps them see that they are worth our time and attention.”

Bessie's Hope works with a variety of people across the Denver metro area, from kindergarteners to at-risk youth to corporate groups. For one hour, they are trained on how to interact with aging adults who may have health or cognitive challenges, such as dementia. Then, the group meets at a nursing home or assisted living community and spends an hour or two making crafts and playing games.

On March 14, about 10 students from a community service club at Mountain Ridge Middle School in Highlands Ranch met at Brookdale Highlands Ranch, 9160 S. University Blvd. The residential community provides memory care for seniors.

In a welcoming room with wooden tables and chairs, the young students sat next to or across from residents. Together they talked, worked on puzzles and decorated totes.

“It teaches you patience and positivity,” said Ally Atkins, a 13-year-old who goes to Ranchview but participates in community service when she can. “You want to make sure they know they belong in this world.”

The visits benefit both parties, said Holloway. Kids learn to respect and have compassion for their elders. Residents get to interact with visitors, which many don't have often, Holloway has found.

“Some don't have any family, just the staff, who are also taking care of everyone else,” she said.

Atkins spent the hour creating a heart-shaped card for Arzella Dirksen, a resident seated next to her. When she received the gift, Dirksen lit up.

“You are so kind and beautiful,” the card said. “Don't let anyone tell you differently.”

At the end of the visit, beaming with excitement, Dirksen said she was going to hang the card in her room.

“This,” she said, “was the best ever.”


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