On a sweltering day in late July, I visited a beautiful memory-care facility in Sun City, where Samantha Asher and her mother, Ena Barrise, had convened their Hello Children Project.
At this informal, joyful, hour-long meetup, babies and kids sat encircled by residents at Royal Oaks Friendship House.
The kiddos worked on a craft project — coloring wooden door hangers with fun messages — and shared snacks. Slowly the group began to gel.
Seniors (mostly the women) reached out to hold babies. Older kids, some shyly, interacted with the residents they’ve learned to call “grandmas and grandpas.”
Asher and Barrise started the Hello Children Project to honor Barrise’s mother, Yvette Zlotnick, who passed away about four years ago at age 86, after battling Parkinson’s-related dementia. “Hello, children’” is how she greeted young people, with joy, all her life.
“She didn’t remember my name, but remembered the name of my unborn son,” recalls Asher, a Peoria mom of three, of her beloved grandmother as the disease rapidly progressed.
She adds of those with dementia, “Children have a way of bringing them back … so, as you can tell, this project is extremely close to our hearts.”
A very pregnant (one day past her due date) Mandy Jass of Peoria was also there with her 2-year-old daughter Piper. Jass has Utah grandparents who could use a meetup like this.
“This is my way of feeling like I’m giving back from miles away,” she said.
Barrise is a volunteer coordinator for Summit Hospice. For some Friendship House residents, Barrise says, seeing these kids stirs happy memories of holding their own babies, their long-ago childhoods, or grandchildren they seldom see.
“This is about the most fun we have all year,” affirmed 91-year-old Clarice Burke, who was smiling. “I just love watching the little ones.”
Asher hopes to grow the group of 25-30 volunteers who meet twice monthly in the west Valley to about 100 volunteers who will meet in four memory-care facilities around metro Phoenix by next year.
On Nov. 11, the group also hopes to raise $2,500 during the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Phoenix.
Because Sunday, Sept. 10 marks Grandparents Day, we wanted to take a moment to recognize their importance.
Too many of us have lost a grandparent early to dementia, and it was heartwarming to see the Hello Children Project in action.
Hello Children Project
Samantha Asher (right) and Ena Barrise (shown here with Asher’s three sons) started the Hello Children Project to honor Barrise’s mother, Yvette Zlotnick, who passed away at age 86 after battling Parkinson’s-related dementia.
“Hello, children” is how Zlotnick greeted young people, with joy, all her life.
Asher and Barrise hope to spread that joy and encourage fond memories by bringing families with young children to volunteer in memory care units in metro Phoenix.
To learn more or join the effort, contact Asher at TheHelloChildrenProject@yahoo.com.