By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Northborough/Southborough – The power of music therapy is experienced by three generations when students and teachers from Algonquin Regional High School (ARHS) meet weekly with residents of the Coleman House, an assisted living facility in Northborough.
The intergenerational project was the idea of Cheryl Pini, a special education aide at Trottier Middle School in Southborough. She had volunteered at the facility several years ago, and would sing with residents. More recently, a Facebook posting about the benefits of music therapy caught her attention.
“Singing isn’t just fun for me, but it’s also beneficial for the residents,” she said.
She shared her idea with Eileen Palmer, an ARHS teacher and faculty advisor of the Community Action Program (CAP). They secured grants from Central One Federal Credit Union and St. Rose of Lima Parish in Northborough, where each is a parishioner.
“We purchased five iPods and other items such as speakers, headphones and splitters,” Pini explained. “The splitter enables the student and the resident to both listen to the same iPod at the same time, which is part of the bonding that I want to happen.”
Pini met with each resident with an iPod and noted their favorite musical styles.
“I try to find music that the residents can relate to and get them singing,” she said.
Brad Smith of Northborough, a junior and National Honor Society member, was looking for a service project and felt this was an ideal match.
“I’ve been a part of the Algonquin music programs with the band and the chorus for a while, so I thought this would be a great way to bring some of my interests and also help someone else,” he said.
Using the findings that Pini compiled, Smith created custom playlists assigned to specific residents. The musical styles include Broadway show tunes, classic jazz and country western. Some residents preferred vocalists’ songs of yesteryear that Smith already had on his own iPod such as Bobby Darin, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.
During the sessions, five sets of residents and students are paired with iPods. Meanwhile, a larger group of residents listen to music from speakers with students, who are available as dance and conversation partners. Smith participates with the dance group.
“I really like how they’re not only hearing music, they’re also getting the social aspect,” he said. “And by getting up and dancing, they’re getting some physical exercise. It’s a really good vibe.”
Smith believes that this project offers a valuable lesson for the students.
“Small things matter,” he said. “It’s only one hour out of an entire week, but for them that one hour seems to really make their week. It’s something for them to look forward to and it shows them that someone cares.”
The music therapy sessions have been running weekly since Feb. 5. Twelve students are regularly involved with more expected to join them. ARHS teacher Maggie Perreault is also participating.
This CAP activity is already evolving in its early stage, Palmer noted.
“The students and residents are enjoying themselves so much that we’d like to expand this,” she said. “We’re in the process of getting additional funds from Central One and we’re getting five more iPods.”
Also, for the third year, CAP students have been visiting the Northborough Senior Center to offer technology assistance.
“Like the technology assistance program, these kids and senior citizens are sitting side by side, working with technology,” Palmer said. “But here, they’re not trying to figure out technology; they’re enjoying technology’s benefits. It’s bridging a gap between generations and tools as the students show the residents how to enjoy an iPod.”