Anjali Jayanti, 11, has been playing the violin since she was 4 years old.
Jayanti's pieces sometimes take months to learn. But for the past few months, she’s been recording her songs for around 50 seniors, doing take after take to ensure her performance of the first movement of "Concerto for Two Violins" is perfect.
The sixth-grader is one of many Minnetonka Public School District 276 students — a district that includes parts of Chanhassen and Victoria — to virtually volunteer with Trouvaille Memory Care Suites, a senior facility in Chanhassen for those with dementia and special care needs.
When the pandemic locked down senior homes and barred in-person visits with family and friends, students of all ages found unique ways to help residents feel connected with their local communities, from craft kits to musical performances to juggling.
The Trouvaille program is a partnership with Tonka Serves, the district’s program that coordinates volunteering and community service opportunities for students and their families, explained district Community Service Specialist Sarah Johnson.
“When we put out the call for people to help out virtually, we found that so many want to give back during this time. The isolation that residents are experiencing really touches a lot of people, and they want to make sure they’re supported,” she said.
Students and families were invited to submit entertaining videos for the residents at Trouvaille: as creative as they’d like to be, said Trouvaille Volunteer and Activities Director Ann Webb.
One boy taught his dog how to shake hands and do tricks. A middle school student performed her dance routine. Three sisters created a virtual Christmas concert, with each sibling playing different instruments. Though residents may not be the best at technology, Trouvaille staff could use iPads and smart TVs to show the videos.
“The residents just love children, and they really connect with the videos. We kept reiterating that these are kids from our neighborhood, from our schools, who did this just for them,” Webb said. “It’s a challenge with memory care, because they don’t understand why their loved ones can’t visit, or why someone is only on a screen. But we found new ways to connect and keep them close through technology.”
Volunteers could also make hands-on activities, like create craft kits for residents. Students would hand cut and compile all the pieces, like paper flowers and stems, then drop it off for seniors to make their own collage. One student went the extra mile, making individual paintings and wrapping them so residents could open up their gifts.
Even Webb is getting in on the program — a violin player since she was 5, she picked up the instrument again after starting at Trouvaille and recognizing the impact of music therapy on residents. She’ll be playing violin with Jayanti; they’re contemplating pieces by Samuel Applebaum and Beethoven.
GOOD FOR ALL AGES
Intergenerational programming like the Trouvaille partnership is good for both the seniors and younger people, Webb said. And it goes the other way around — residents will make sandwiches to donate to charities that provide meals for those in need, or make buttons and pins for local organizations. Pre-COVID, they were planning an intergenerational choir, bringing people together through music.
“They can give back, and it’s their way of connecting with the community. This kind of thing brings joy and happiness and good health, when you’re with younger people,” Webb added.
Memory-related illnesses aren’t an easy subject to broach with kids. But when students have opportunities to learn about it first-hand, it gives them a sensitivity and knowledge of how to work with people in this situation, and the benefits their presence can bring, Webb said.
As the weather gets warmer and vaccinations continue, in-person activities at Trouvaille are beginning again. They’re recruiting musical groups to perform, and District 276 families and students to help with lawn care work and gardening, Johnson said. Because they stay connected, the same people who submitted videos can come in person to visit the people they helped virtually.
As for musicians like Jayanti? She said she’ll keep submitting her performances to Trouvaille as she learns more pieces.
“I’m just happy to share my music with other people,” she said.