The holidays came early for residents at The Grand retirement community in Brooksville, where a band of teen angels flew on Dec. 2 to deliver gifts of warmth and friendship.
A group of 21 Weeki Wachee High School students donated 132 pairs of holiday socks to seniors at The Grande as a part of the Socks for Seniors program, personally delivering this donation as they bonded with their beneficiaries.
Wearing Santa hats and Christmas sweaters, members of the Weeki Wachee High
School’s Florida Future Educators of America sat back and watched with pride as their new friends unwrapped and admired their heartfelt gifts. They shared smiles, hugs and happy tears as the seniors appreciated their festive footwear.
“These are great kids.” “This restores my faith in children. I am so grateful for what they’ve done for us.” “I’ve never had Christmas socks in all my life.” “What these children are doing is absolutely wonderful.” These are just some of the comments that the seniors of The Grand made as they received their warm and fuzzy gifts. And they played games and enjoyed snacks and fun activities with the kids who endowed them.
Under the guidance of their advisor, Traci Athanason, school administration and staff, students collected new socks of various sizes, colors, and styles through their purchases and from their classmates, teachers, and community members.
“The club decided we wanted to do something to spread some joy this holiday season,” said Athanason. “And who doesn’t love Christmas socks?”
Traci and her husband, John Athanason, are the proud owners of Halo the Tourism Dog, a celebrity therapy dog with a YouTube travel channel. She often takes Halo to visit the folks at The Grand.
“It was through my visits with Halo that I got to know the folks at The Grand,” she said. “And when we set about collecting socks, we collected so many that we ended up with 50 extra pairs that we donated to patients at Hernando-Pasco Hospice. And the kids will give their teachers the remaining socks during an upcoming teacher appreciation celebration.”
Athanason said that club members saved and spent their money to purchase these socks and collected new donated socks from parents, family members and church groups.
“The kids enjoyed their time with the seniors so much,” she said. “The one question they’re asking is, ‘When can we go back?'”
Aside from being a fun and rewarding experience, Athanason feels that the Socks for Seniors project is an educational experience for these aspiring teachers.
“The lesson here is about compassion,” she said. “Some of these nursing home residents have nobody. It made them feel so good for us to come and visit. I’m so proud of these kids.”
Weeki Wachee High School FFEA student president Jade Thompson felt that socks make the ideal gift for seniors. “Especially for seniors in memory care, the socks we gave had grips at the bottom, which will help them avoid slips and falls,” she explained. “Plus, they’re cozy and comfortable.”
Thompson feels that the Socks for Seniors campaign provided prime vocational training for the future educators of her club. “Helping is part of what being a leader is,” she said.
Kolbi Fremer, a club member, claimed that her interactions with her brand-new senior friends at The Grand deeply touched her. “One woman reminded me of my grandma,” she said. “The whole experience touched my heart. It was so emotional. We gave them hope.”
FFEA member Hannah Hart also found her visit to The Grand to be truly inspirational. “When I presented my socks to a senior, at that moment, I was filled with happiness. We were both shedding tears of joy,” she said. “That one little thing made her so happy. I hope we can go back for Valentine’s Day.”
Mildred Murrman-Dudley, vice principal of Weeki Wachee High School, also attended the Socks for Seniors event. She feels that being a teacher is about far more than being a capable classroom instructor, and that through experiences like SOS, FFEA members learn to care. “These delightful kids were so excited to help,” she said. “The joy, the smiles, the tears. It was all so inspiring.”