Baby and toddler visits bring joy to seniors in LaGrange Park
Dawn Groth (left) of Summit and her son Daniel Groth (center) meet with a Plymouth Place Senior Living patient with memory support needs during the Baby Brigade program at the retirement center. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
To volunteer for the Baby Brigade or numerous other opportunities at Plymouth Place, contact Sandi Kemmerling, volunteer coordinator at (708) 482-6672.
Updated: October 14, 2012 12:14PM
LAGRANGE PARK — A dozen toddlers and moms sprawled out with toys and books in a comfortable LaGrange Park family room.
But unlike most playgroups, the little ones and their friendly moms were surrounded by a circle of elderly retirees who broke into broad smiles as the children hopped, skipped or raced into the room.
Once a month, the Baby Brigade comes to visit residents of Greg’s Place, a memory support unit at the Plymouth Place Senior Living retirement center.
“I like the interaction, and my girls look forward to coming,” said Kate Pinnick of LaGrange Park, who brought Charlotte, 2½, in September. “The kids can engage the residents, who just have fun watching them play.”
Ann Heinl of Brookfield, who has three young daughters, began recruiting visitors about four years ago by sending out emails through two moms’ groups. At least four moms come each month, depending on their children’s activities or health.
“The idea is that kids can come and be kids. The residents can just visit with them, or watch them play, or tell us stories,” Heinl said. “Someone will always give us a little sage advice, like boys are easier than girls to raise.”
The format of the one-hour visit is loose, and activities vary. The group has sung Christmas carols, passed out valentines, modeled dress-up clothes and shared stickers with the stand-in grandmas and grandpas, Heinl said.
The most sought-after visitor was 3-month-old Daniel Groth, who came with his mother, Dawn, from Summit. After only a few moments, Daniel was cuddling contentedly with one grandma whose blue eyes sparkled as she held the infant.
When asked if the plump baby was getting heavy to hold, she quickly responded, “Oh, no,” and smiled even more broadly.
“This is my first time. I love it. We will come again,” said Dawn Groth. “I’m new in the area, and my family is far away in Minnesota, so it’s nice to come here.”
Nichole Bischmann, who has been coming for four years with her two children, said the visits spark memories among the seniors.
“A lot of times, they’ll tell us about when their children were little,” Bischmann said. “Their long-term memories are good.”
Chris Lucnik, social lifestyle coordinator in Greg’s Place, said the residents look forward to the visits.
“Most of them are over 90, and their grandchildren are older,” Lucnik said. “They have a lot of fun. They love it.”
In turn, the moms appreciate feedback from the residents, Heinl said.
“It’s nice to come, because sometimes as a mom, you’re so focused in your own world that it’s good to have others think your kids are silly or funny or nice,” she said.