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Spreading holiday cheer: Aiken High students celebrate Christmas with Hitchcock Place residents

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The door to Arva LaMunyon’s apartment at Hitchcock Place looks like the entrance to a gingerbread house.

On top of the brown wrapping paper covering it are a heart made of candy canes, a red bow and other adornments.

Stockings hang overhead, and there is a gingerbread man on a hallway wall nearby.

Inside the 92-year-old LaMunyon’s suite, there is a banner-like creation with red and green letters that spell out “Merry Christmas,” and snowflakes dangle in the windowpanes.

“I think they did good,” said LaMunyon of the Aiken High School Interact Club members who decorated her flat at the assisted living facility on Crepe Myrtle Court.

Three of the students who were involved in the project – Jay Dicks, Kendal Moss and Lila Dawson – visited LaMunyon last week. They talked about their holiday experience and their plans to establish long-term connections with LaMunyon and other residents of Hitchcock Place.

“Family does not just have to be the people that share the same last name as you,” said Dicks, who is the Interact Club’s co-president. “We want to build relationships with the people in this community here and show them that we are their family.”

Added Dawson: “It’s important to build connections and show compassion for people outside of Christmas.”

Both enjoyed their interactions with LaMunyon.

Davis described the nonagenarian as “a very, very sweet lady,” and Dawson agreed.

“She is just real friendly and warm,” Dawson said. “It was really nice to connect with someone like her over something so simple like decorating, which was fun.”

Moss also was feeling the Christmas spirit.

“I’m glad we could do this,” she said.

Hitchcock Place Executive Director Jim Fairchild reached out to Aiken High and its students, hoping he would find teenagers interested in getting involved in an intergenerational effort to spread Christmas cheer.

“We wanted to decorate our building, so we had a contest and had families of our residents that helped decorate doors, rooms and Christmas trees,” Fairchild said. “But some of our residents don’t have families or families who were able to be here, so we started looking for ways to bring people in the community here.”

The Interact Club and two athletic teams from Aiken High responded and got involved, Fairchild said. They supplied and put up decorations for six Hitchcock Place residents.

Davis said “seven or eight” Interact Club members worked on LaMunyon’s apartment and another woman’s living space.

As for the future, Aiken High Interact sponsor Art Lader and the students he advises have discussed a plan they hope will bring Interact members who are interested in assisting the elderly to Hitchcock Place on a regular basis.

“We’re setting up a meeting with the activities director here who will give us ideas about what activities are doable for us and also will add value to the lives of the residents,” said Lader, who also teaches German at Aiken High. “We want to proceed slowly and carefully and do it right. We want to learn and create a relationship (between Hitchcock Place and Interact) that hopefully will last for years. We think this something that will be mutually beneficial and should go on for a long time.”

Fairchild is excited about the Interact Club’s enthusiasm.

“It will help our residents feel like they are a part of something and that somebody else cares for them,” he said. "They love young people, and if they can make a connection with them, it’s great. And hopefully, the young people will get a feeling of fulfillment because they are doing something that impacts someone else’s life.”

The Aiken High Interact Club is affiliated with the Rotary Club of Aiken, which meets at Newberry Hall.

Rotary International’s mottoes are “Service Above Self” and “One Profits Most Who Serves Best.”

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