November 29. 2017 11:28PM

Milford teens befriend seniors in 'Young Kasamas' program

By GRETCHEN M. GROSKY
New Hampshire Union Leader


Alice Danas, a Milford High School student and president of the Young Kasamas club, stands with Earl Townsend, a resident of the Crestwood Center in Milford. (GRETCHEN GROSKY/Union Leader)

Arthur Beaudoin, a resident at Crestwood Center in Milford, enjoys a visit from Alice Danas, a Milford High School student and president of the Young Kasamas club. (GRETCHEN GROSKY/Union Leader)


Milford High School has a unique and popular club with 80 students who volunteer their time with seniors living at the Crestwood Center in Milford. Shown from left are Crestwood resident Bill Lockhardt, Kasamas member Jordan King, resident Mary Pucciarello, and Kasamas member Maddie Frye. (GRETCHEN GROSKY/Union Leader)


Sarah Curfman, a Milford High School student and member of the Young Kasamas club, stands with Milly Cunningham, a resident of the Crestwood Center in Milford. (GRETCHEN GROSKY/Union Leader)


There’s a group of about 80 Milford High School students spending a lot of free time hanging out with a group of older friends — some as much as 85 years older.

These students call themselves the Young Kasamas and they make up one of the most popular clubs at the school. These young volunteers spend their free time at the Crestwood Center, a home to some 80 older residents. The group gets its name “Kasamas” from the Filipino language of Cebuano, meaning “companion.”

“I can’t say enough about the Young Kasamas,” said Crestwood resident Carol Balcom, a Milford High School alum herself who just celebrated her 55th class reunion. “Teenagers today get a bad rap, but these kids are wonderful.”

The students are there for the seniors just about every day. They play games, like UNO and Wii Bowling, which seem to be the most popular and competitive games among them. Resident Arthur Beaudoin joked he took $50 just to let one of the students win a game against him.

“They are just great,” Beaudoin said. “They do everything for us.”

Alice Danas is a 17-year-old senior and president of the Young Kasamas. She said many join because it’s a way of giving back to the community in a flexible way. She said there are no set times or requirements, and students are welcome to show up at just about any time.

“I realize how little it is to do and how happy it makes them — to spend time and talk about things like how life is going,” said Danas. “People sometimes think doing something like this would get in the way of their life, but it doesn’t. It makes your life better.”

On Friday, about 20 students joined residents in decorating the center for the holidays — just one of a number of events the Kasamas do each year. The biggest is the “senior prom,” a themed dance held in the spring where the students and residents dress up, dance and eat. Last year, more than 100 people attended the outdoor event, said Crestwood’s Recreation Director Linette Davidson.

Davidson said without the Kasamas, she “wouldn’t be able to do a lot of the programming” they do for residents. She said there is only a staff of four people to provide activities to the 80 residents and the Kasamas have donated “thousands of hours” to the center.

“These are an elite group of kids, and they inspire people to be better. They inspire me to be better,” Davidson said.

She said the group started about four years ago in Steve Scannell’s Advanced Health Course talking to students about his visits to his grandmother in a nursing home and how he noticed other residents often had no visitors.

The following day, two students approached him about starting an afterschool club to make sure everyone in a local nursing home had visitors. Davidson said for many teens, being around an older person can be intimidating but the membership of this club continues to grow. Maddie Frye, 16, said she was apprehensive at first.

“I was nervous in the beginning, but the more you come, the more you realize they just like hanging out with us,” Frye said. “What I found is they mostly just want to talk and they like to listen, too.”

Danas said the students take away a lot of knowledge from those they help. Many of the residents like to impart wisdom to their young friends. Balcom tells the volunteers to simply “be happy.”

“Be happy no matter what your circumstances — and they’ve certainly made me happy,” Balcom said.

The group recently received a Volunteer Champion award from Volunteer NH and they hope to see the Kasamas club incorporated elsewhere. Davidson said she has been in touch with Hollis Brookline and Souhegan high schools. She said the group hopes to one day go national.

Silver Linings is a continuing Union Leader/Sunday News report focusing on the issues of New Hampshire’s aging population and seeking out solutions. Union Leader reporter Gretchen Grosky would like to hear from readers about issues related to aging. She can be reached at ggrosky@unionleader.com or (603) 206-7739. See more at www.unionleader.com/aging. This series is funded through a grant from the Endowment for Health.