Home Education and Careers Ursuline Academy sixth-graders offer free hugs, multisensory experience to elderly neighbors

Ursuline Academy sixth-graders offer free hugs, multisensory experience to elderly neighbors

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An Ingleside Homes resident gets a hug through a plastic shield and arms from an Ursuline student. Dialog photo/Mike Lang

WILMINGTON — Many of the approximately 180 residents of Ingleside Homes in Wilmington haven’t seen their families in more than six months, when the facility largely shut down due to coronavirus concerns. But thanks to a group of students at neighboring Ursuline Academy, a group of them were able to share a visit in the sunshine on Oct. 27.

Fifteen sixth-graders from an innovation class at Ursuline’s middle class set up a multisensory experience for the residents at Cool Spring Reservoir, which sits between the school and Ingleside. It included a performance by three student musicians, cookies baked by the students and their families, some conversation and free hugs. The hugs were done through a plastic sheet, sleeves made of shrink wrap, and latex gloves.

Ursuline sixth-graders hand out cookies to residents of neighboring Ingleside Homes on Oct. 27 at Cool Spring Reservoir. Dialog photo/Mike Lang

“They really thought out of the box to create a safe way to extend some care in a safe environment. They put a lot of thought into it,” said Erin McNichol, Ursuline’s innovation teacher.

One of her students, Addie Arcari, had done something similar for her grandparents over the summer, and she brought up the idea of recreating the hug station. The students added the other senses. A phone call was made to Ingleside, and the date was set. The girls identified an issue and got to work, McNichol said.

“The innovation class is supposed to solve problems,” she said. “One of the problems we identified is the isolated elderly population due to covid. Right next door, our neighbors, I’m sure they would appreciate an event that stimulates all the senses and they don’t feel quite as isolated. They feel the community love.”

Catherine Stahakis, who lives at Ingleside Homes, originally came out to enjoy the weather and watch her fellow residents interact with the students. After a few minutes, however, she wandered over for a hug.

“I think it’s wonderful,” she said. “I love kids. I’m a teacher. They need the support.”

The event brought a smile to Addie’s face. She said she has six grandparents, and she wanted to figure out a way to hug them. Unlike other summers, she wasn’t able to spend time with them in 2020 at their homes in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. She designed the frame from PVC pipe, but for the Ursuline event she used a rolling clothing rack. She and her friends constructed the plastic hugging contraption.

She came up with the idea when McNichol brought up in class that not everyone has loved ones nearby during the pandemic.

“When she was talking about how we can make elders feel loved in quarantine, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I did this thing. I would love to share it.’ That’s kind of how the idea came up,” Addie said.

Barbara Flowers, the activities director at Ingleside, said she was on board the minute she heard from McNichol. The residents can’t have visitors, and they are eating meals in their rooms.

“It’s very difficult,” she said.

The residents are used to working with nearby schools, so this was a chance to do that again. “The children did such a great job. This is a lot of work.”

All photos by Mike Lang.