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Emily Baillie, right, discusses the Packers with Russell Nelson, 78, after giving him a Valentine’s Day card Friday at Golden Living Center. Baillie was one of more than two dozen Maranatha Academy students who spent the afternoon passing out cards to seniors. (Maria Lockwood)

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Students from Maranatha Academy spread Valentine cheer with cards and conversation Friday. Emily Baillie, 14, found common ground discussing football with Packer fan Russell Nelson at Golden Living Center. The 72-year-old’s favorite player is Aaron Rodgers.

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“He’s my favorite too,” Emily said.

Dolores Liska of Poplar remembers the little things about holidays past — helping the children make Valentine’s boxes, going out to eat and even penning poems for her husband. A small red card forged a connection between Liska and 13-year-old Julia Adams, who also lived out in rural Douglas County. They spoke of relatives and friends, finding common points of reference. In another room, Meg Baillie and another resident talked about pie.

The young people could have spent the afternoon at a Valentine’s Day party. Instead, 28 students delivered 450 handmade cards to residents at Villa Marina, St. Francis, the Lighthouse  and Golden Living.

“We try to teach them about service, helping out in the community,” said Maranatha Principal Keith Russell. “A lot of them are just trying to figure out where they can help out, ‘How can I be impactful in my community?’”

Intergenerational activities have a big impact on seniors.

“You see people smile that might not even make eye contact with people, and next you know they’re smiling and maybe even talking. It happens all the time,” said Golden Living activities director Tina Anderson. “It’s amazing for us to see that.”

Visitors and residents benefit from these visits, but so do staff.

“It helps to cheer it up around here for everybody,” Anderson said.

Sometimes the resident you walk up to looks sad, Emily said. But when you hand them a card they brighten up. “They want to talk and get to know you.”

Billy Chadwick, 15, said he enjoys seeing the smiling faces every time he hands out a card.

The students are always enthusiastic for the Valentine’s visit, Russell said. Some students have even continued to volunteer at local assisted living facilities.

“As a Christian school, we look for opportunities for our students to apply the principles of love and service that Christ displayed for us in the Bible,” Russell said. “These visits are a wonderful way for them to learn that even a small gesture of kindness can mean a lot to someone.”

Volunteers are always appreciated at Golden Living, Anderson said. They serve as the eyes and ears for residents as they play bingo, stop by for a one-on-one chat or help with group activities.

“(The residents) especially love when children come to visit or anybody with musical talent who can entertain them,” Anderson said. “Kids and music get to them at a level that nothing else can. It really brings them out of their shell.”

Volunteers don’t have to commit to a large number of hours or pencil in every holiday.

“Christmas is great but come make their day any time of the year,” Anderson said. “It doesn’t just have to be a special occasion. If a person wants to drop in and visit, that would just mean a lot to the residents.”

Anyone interested can drop by Golden Living, 1612 N. 37th St., to pick up an applications and an activity calendar.

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