Alumni contacts Elms cheerleading for show at Wingate Nursing Home

A Cheery Surprise

Nursing homes provide their residents with food, shelter, health care, activities, and love. But they cannot replace the social interaction with diverse neighbors that is lost when one is confined to a home–at least not on their own.

Colleen Strunk ’07 is the activities director at Wingate at Springfield, a skilled nursing home in the Sixteen Acres neighborhood of the western Massachusetts city. She pushes for what she calls intergenerational programming–exposing the residents to populations of each generation.

“When you’re out in the community you’re around all different types of people, all different generations. But when you’re in a nursing facility, you miss that,” said Colleen.

Colleen began contacting the athletic teams at her alma mater to see if they would be interested in visiting the residents. The first response came from a familiar name Colleen knew as a student, Ashlee McNamee ’09, head cheerleading coach and adjunct nursing faculty at Elms.

Ashlee and Colleen were both excited about the idea and the former began preparing her team to cheer at the nursing home. Carpooling in a parade of sedans, the cheerleaders left campus on a cool October morning and showed up at Wingate burgeoning with Elms fervor. The residents were all smiles when the performance ended. The cheerleaders interacted with the residents–most of them were in wheelchairs–and helped them vote in best-pumpkin-carving contest.

“The girls were so kind and sweet,” Colleen said.

A history major and art minor, Colleen began working at Redstone Rehabilitation and Nursing Center as an activities assistant after college. She eventually became a certified activities director and started working at Wingate. She brings in students as young ten to expose the residents to multiple generations and simulate the diverse social contact they would otherwise miss.

Colleen said what she likes most about her job is spending time with the residents. In the future, she hopes to bring in Elms College athletes from other teams as well.