By Lauren Deal
Macon Community News
Ben Trofemuk and Kendall Joyner are juniors at ACE (Academy for Classical Education) in Macon. The two met and became friends through their experiences in the ACE band in 8th grade.
“Our second year at ACE, he was in band, and I was in band, and we just cliqued,” says Kendall, the more talkative of the friends. “We were in the same general area because I play tuba and he plays trombone, lower brass area, and we talked.”
“Lower brass kind of cliques all together,” Ben adds.
In 2017, Ben started a community service project, which he called ”We are more alike than we thought.” The project started out with a senior summer camp at Eastview Nursing Center in Macon.
“We made the NERF targets out of PVC as the frame, and then we use paper clips to attach disposable plates for targets. We raise money for darts,” explains Kendall.
“Originally, the first time we did it, we had I-Spy bottles that we made with rice and little knick-knacks,” Kendall continues. The rice and small items were placed in large cola bottles, and residents could shake, turn, and roll the bottles to move the rice and try to find the knick-knack items hidden underneath.
The two offered other activities to the senior residents during their first year visiting them, including the NERF gun challenges and I-Spy bottles. “We also did BINGO…..,” Ben remembers.
“And we did a music game,” reminds Kendall. He continues: “We read an article about how memory is like a pen: when you start writing, the ink is more vibrant. As you write with it, though, it starts fading and losing its luster towards the end. So we played music from when they were young, and we had them listen to it, and watched their faces light up as they recognized it. It was one of our most rewarding activities.”
The senior summer camp was organized with the help of Ben’s aunt, who worked at Eastview.
On other visits, the pair did fun science lessons with the residents. “We did two demonstrations of Bernoulli’s Principle,” Ben recalls. “One was with a leaf blower and a roll of toilet paper, and the other one was with a piece of paper and the residents’ mouths.”
After their first year presenting the project, Ben and Kendall narrowed down the activities to focus on their – and the residents – favorite: shooting NERF foam dart guns. With input of Ben’s aunt, they also devised a system for rewarding the residents. When they hit targets with the NERF darts, they won tickets, which they could redeem for snacks. Later, they traded out the snacks for old-fashioned candies.
“We made a candy cart out of plywood and a rolling cart, and a lot of spray paint, with the help of my stepdad, Ian Kistler,” explains Ben. “An anonymous donor gave us the old-fashioned glass jars to put candy in. We take it with us to nursing homes, along with our NERF guns and our NERF target systems.”
Kendall and Ben stock the candy cart with treats like Mary Janes, Necco Wafers, Sugar Daddies, Cracker Jacks, and other candies that remind the residents of their childhood. They have received donations of snacks and candy, as well as money to purchase treats and supplies.
“The games and the candy aren’t really our purpose,” says Kendall, “We’re trying to help bring about memories for the elderly residents, and when we talk to them, it’s about what they remember when they eat these candies. So, for Mary Janes, we’ll ask when they remember eating them, and they’ll tell us stories. Some of them are really sweet memories, and others are much longer stories.”
“And that’s really the whole purpose of it,” Ben explains. “It’s like with the article about the pen and memory, we want to remind them about their childhood, and yes, they are in a nursing home, but they can still have fun. It doesn’t have to be boring every day, they can still have fun there.”
“A lot of people forget about people in nursing homes,” Ben continues. “It’s kind of sad, really.”
While Kendall grew up around nursing home residents because of his grandmother’s career, visiting Eastview was Ben’s first experience interacting with residents of a nursing home. “It was an eye-opener because nursing homes, you kind of think about people just being there, but when you go there, you get to see that it’s a fun place to be,” Ben says.
The young men have brought their activities to numerous area nursing homes, including Magnolia Manor, Morningside, the Gables, and Eastview, where it all started. Kendall’s grandmother worked at the Gables for many years. She helped the pair gain access to the residents there.
“We did the candy cart at Magnolia Manor,” says Ben, “and that was the biggest hit we’ve had. We did both buildings there, and that was probably the longest we’ve done candy cart. By the time we were done, we’d completely depleted our candy supply.”
Kendall chimes in to explain that they were at Magnolia Manor for six hours, playing games with the residents and allowing them to choose prize candy from their traditional candy cart, then talking to the residents as they enjoyed their rewards.
One of the benefits of their project has been learning how to slow down to a more relaxed pace, to take the time to listen to the residents and to be patient with them.
“Our goal is bringing joy to nursing home residents through their memories, with playing games, and with candy,” Ben emphasizes.
“Our whole mission,” Kendall adds, “is summed up in our name, that we are more alike than we thought. It goes to show other teenagers that we share commonalities with our fellow people, and we see many similarities between old and young: we both enjoy music. While they may listen to Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, and we listen to rap or Ed Sheeran, while it’s different, it’s also alike.”
Ben and Kendall hope that their project will inspire other teenagers to interact with elderly members of their communities, here in Macon and one day, across the nation. They hope to change the myth that people in nursing homes are too old to understand young people.
“Once you hang out with older people, you learn that they’re actually pretty cool,” Kendall concludes.
The boys hope to see their project continue and grow. “In our senior year, we hope to choose ninth or tenth graders to bring into the project, to teach them about it, so that when we leave, the project will continue.”
For more information about the “We are more alike than we thought” project, or to make donations, check out their page on Facebook.