The students of J.D. Floyd K8 School of Environmental Science approached Evergreen Woods Health & Rehabilitation Center in Santa hats or antler headbands bearing gifts for the folks inside. The students were members of the Junior Beta Club, which recognizes high academic achievement and encourages service. Junior Beta Club is the part of the National Beta Club for grades 5-9. "We're here to help out our community, to help our senior citizens," said chapter co-president Shane Scorza, 14, an eighth-grader.
"That's what Beta does," said co-president Lexie Celt, 14, also in eighth grade. "We raise money to help out the community."
Although the group has been raising money this school year through a bake sale and ice pop sales, this particular event was a schoolwide collection. Beta members encouraged students to donate items that senior citizens might enjoy.
They brought in crossword puzzles, stuffed animals, lotions and other toiletries. The collection was a contest; the grade level bringing in the most items won an ice cream party.
The group's adviser is seventh- and eighth-grade environmental science teacher Christine Voight. Seventh-grade language arts teacher Brenda Fernandez and eighth-grade math teacher Ginny Hanson accompanied Voight and the students to Evergreen Woods.
"This is a learning experience for them," Voight said. She said she hopes they learn "just to respect their elders, to understand the needs in the community and to see how a little thing can go a long way."
As the students moved through the hallways and into the rooms, they couldn't help but be affected by what they saw.
"As I'm walking by, I feel sad for these people that they have to deal with these medical problems," said fifth-grader Nick Sather, 11. "I feel really, really bad for them that they have to go through this."
Eighth-grader Laura Dutton, 13, was impressed by the kindness she experienced from the people she visited. "This is a life-changing experience to me," she said. A woman said, "God bless you," and "it was really sweet."
Eighth-grader Billy Iaccheri, 14, had his own particular experience with a woman who was a real Mickey Mouse fan. He happened to have a stuffed Mickey Mouse for her.
"She was really happy about it," he said. "She was really thankful." He mentioned he was headed to Disney World soon, and she asked if she could go with him.
Voight, the teacher, confirmed the woman's pleasure. "You'd think he gave her gold," she said.
Eighth-grader Diego Gomez, 14, had a more general comment. "The ladies here and everybody were very nice and kind to us," he said.
Ruby Justice, 88, received a gift and was delighted with the visit. "I think it's just great," she said. "I think it's a blessing. It's sure nice they think about us."
Dena Panetta, 90, agreed with her. "Beautiful," she said. "Very nice, very nice."
Evergreen Woods activity director Vickie Helfrick was happy to have the students there. "I think it's wonderful that they remember the people in the nursing centers," she said. "It brightens their day a little bit."
But she had a suggestion: "How wonderful it would be to have the visits other times of the year. It just doesn't have to be at Christmastime."
Maybe she can count on eighth-grader Bo Curley, 13. "I think that it's really nice that we're doing this, and it's good for the elderly here," he said. "I feel good for doing this, and I'd like to do it again."