ZELIENOPLE — Hot roasted turkey. Fluffy mashed potatoes. Icy apple cider. A dozen nonagenarians. And 13 eighth-graders from St. Gregory Catholic School.
This was what officially made Nov. 19 Thanksgiving at Passavant Community's Newhaven Court.
“This is very nice,” said Jane Gilchrist, a 92-year-old resident at Newhaven Court. “They've really outdone themselves.”
Newhaven Court is a personal care and assisted living home that opens its doors to eighth-grade students in Erika Barlow's social studies class.
Barlow visited residents years ago, when she was an eighth-grader at St. Gregory.
“(I loved) how good it felt to make other people happy and brighten their day,” Barlow said.
Now that she's a teacher, Barlow takes students to visit residents about six times during the school year. Sharing a Thanksgiving meal has become a tradition.
“I love to see young people,” said Lois Miller, 98.
“I think they're great,” said Millie Howryla, 92. “They don't know what's ahead of them.”
For Newhaven residents, the dinner is a time to socialize with each other and with young people. The event is “intergenerational,” according to Chris Stavar, Newhaven activities director.
“We try to get the kids to mingle with our residents,” Stavar said. “And vice-versa.”
But there was no need to “get” students to do anything when the turkey was carved.
The eighth-graders served residents their dinner, kept them company during the meal and divvied up into teams for post-dinner games.
“(I want) to inspire the notion of service,” Barlow said. “It's cool to see them so active and happy.”
Eric Zacherl, 14, shared a table with Gilchrist, Irma Johnston, Grace Thornton and Robert Burton. He said he likes being part of student visits to Newhaven.
“I make friends,” Eric said.
“I'm enjoying this young man,” Thornton said of his young friend. “He's very bright. He should have a good future.”
Thornton has lived at Newhaven for several years, but Gilchrist joined the community in October. Thanksgiving dinner was the first time she interacted with St. Gregory students.
She had a good time. Gilchrist likes the idea of young people spending time with residents.
“I think that's very nice,” Gilchrist said. “I think they're very special.”
Students discussed Thanksgiving traditions and favorite memories with residents. Gilchrist said she always spent Thanksgiving at her grandmother's house, and her favorite Thanksgiving food is creamed onions.
Eric told his dinner mates Thanksgiving for his family this year would be at his great-uncle's house.
“A lot of my family comes from all over the country,” Eric said. “We all just catch up with what happened over the year.”
This holiday, Eric added, will be a little different. He's traveling to Disney World the first few days in December to perform with the school marching band. Eric plays the trumpet.
Gilchrist believes she grew up at a good time, especially when it comes to music. Some of her favorite tunes are swing.
Eric said he loves swing music too.
“Those were good years,” Gilchrist said.
Eighth-graders Sophia Signoriello and Sara Kaelin said they enjoy hearing about the lives of residents.
“We don't usually get to do stuff like this because we're normally busy with school work,” Sophia said.
Ada Spithaler, a 92-year-old resident who ate dinner with Sophia and Sara, said she enjoys listening to the students.
“(Especially) talking about their future,” Spithaler said. “It makes you feel good to talk to some young people.”
“I enjoy ... seeing them,” said Violet Schlup, 90, “since I have grandchildren and great-grandchildren I don't (often) see.”
After residents and students stuffed themselves with the Thanksgiving classics — right down to pumpkin pie — they jotted down the things for which they were thankful.
Family, friends and the Passavant Community all made the list.
Thornton will be back for dinner next year, if Newhaven continues opening its doors to St. Gregory students. She said her experience this year was a fun one.
“I had good company,” Thornton said.