If Grade 10 student Jay Hung was explaining Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia to his peers, he would tell them to forget everything they have seen in movies and TV shows: dementia is more than what it is portrayed on the screen.
“It’s something different for everyone,” said Jay, a Holy Trinity School student who volunteered in a virtual Minds in Motion® session for people living to early to mid-stage dementia and their care partners as part of his school’s Connections program.
“I would tell them it’s a progressive disease and there is not a cure. It doesn’t just affect the person, but members of their family need support, too.”
Jay said he initially went into the Minds in Motion program, where people participate in a half an hour of gentle exercise and a half an hour of cognitive stimulation, with pre-conceived notions about what dementia is and isn’t. By the end, Jay came away with a new perspective and awareness about people living with this fatal disease and said he enjoyed listening to the couples talk with each other and the conversations that took place.
Empathy is one of the four core moral values at Richmond Hill’s Holy Trinity School, said Brian Csinos, director of experiential learning at the independent school and the creator of the Connections program, which sees students in various grades learning about a local organization and then volunteering at it.
For the last two years, Grade 10 students have been coming to the Alzheimer Society of York Region (AS York) and learning about Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias from staff before going into the DAY program to interact with people living with the disease. Due to COVID-19, volunteers are unable to go into the DAY program and instead students had the opportunity to participate in Minds in Motion, which is now virtual.
“I think Grade 10s are mature enough to be paired up with AS York…It is my hope that experiences like this will help them build empathy and aid them to live and act with empathy for the rest of their high school (years) and beyond.”
The purpose of the Connections program is to have staff and students make “connections in the community throughout the year,” learn about the organization and the people it impacts, volunteer and then share that knowledge with others.
Sharing involves students talking about what was most rewarding or challenging about their experiences with the organization and “how this experience supports one of four moral school values (courage, empathy, integrity and respect)…and how they will apply what they have learned in the future,” Csinos said.
Students may share their experience within the school community through videos and newsletters as well as including it in applications for awards or post-secondary schooling.
Students also participate in Sharing Day week where students share what they learned with others and engage with the partner organizations through face-to-face or virtual or recorded sessions. Last year in-person and this year through a virtual platform, Jaime Cruz, AS York’s public education coordinator, spoke to students about Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
During Sharing Day week, students, staff and their families are encouraged to donate to the organization. This year, students raised funds for AS York through their dress-down days, where students pay a fee to get out of wearing their uniforms.
Csinos said he chose AS York as one of the partner organizations because it’s important for students to relate to the organization at some level.
“I expect that everybody will experience dementia in their life through loved ones, friends or they themselves might develop Alzheimer's disease as they age.”
Csinos said since the Connections program began, he has noticed that students have become informed about a variety of community issues, built new relationships and have been empowered to take action and make a positive impact on their community.
“I want to thank the Alzheimer Society of York Region for their continued support with our Connections program. It is because of wonderful partners like AS York that we are able to provide meaningful opportunities for our students to learn, share and serve with our members of our community and establish values and habits so that they continue to be engaged citizens.”
AS York would like to thank Jay, Brian and other staff and students at Holy Trinity School for their ongoing support. We are grateful for your commitment to helping our family, friends and neighbours impacted by dementia.
The Grade 11 marketing students are also working with AS York. Read their story here.
AS York offers many opportunities for students to learn more about the organization and York Region residents impacted by dementia. For details, email [email protected]