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Senior helps seniors

"What started out as a school requirement for Jacqueline Diaz has turned into finding a niche.The Oak Harbor High School senior has been volunteering her time at Home Place Special Care Center in Oak Harbor as part of a requirement for a caregiver program at school. However, Diaz has found that the aging people at Home Place, all of whom suffer from Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia, have come to look forward to her visits and appreciate her attention. In turn, she has enjoyed her time with the residents so much that she'd like to continue visiting and volunteering her time, although she will no longer be required to after this week. Diaz is wheelchair-bound, but she gives the impression she doesn't consider herself disabled. And, being in a wheelchair doesn't seem to have made the 18-year-old shy away from trying new things or giving of herself.I help out with ... getting activities set up. I ... do games with the people here. I'll talk with them, Diaz said of those she connects with at Home Place.Aside from giving of her time, attention and energy, Diaz has been an avid skier for several years, using a special ski chair. She also sings in the Oak Harbor High School choir. She plans to go to community college in the fall and eventually become a teaching assistant.More important, she is simply a nice person and a positive example of young people today, said Wendy Sines, activity director at Home Place. Sines has supervised Diaz's activities at the center. She has also closely watched the interaction between the young woman and older patients, separated by generations.She is just a real neat person and I think her being eye-level with the residents in wheelchairs they really connect with her. They just kind of light up when she comes into the room, Sines said.Diaz and the residents share stories about life then and now, Sines said. The aged folks tell Diaz what life was like when they were young, and Diaz tells them about about her current activities.Diaz has spent most of her time at the home with the most active of the residents, Sines said. Alzheimer's and dementia follow three phases of development, she said, and with the more advanced stages comes a decrease in activity level. Diaz has been mostly volunteering with those residents in stage one.Diaz, who has been spending two class periods a day with Home Place residents said she will miss them, and she hopes to continue to visit and volunteer her time on her own.It's been really fun, she said, adding she will come back Whenever I have time off when I don't have anything going on.As Diaz sat at a table with five Home Place residents, the group busied themselves by coloring pictures and chatting. Residents clearly appreciated Diaz's companionship.One resident, named Gladys, summed it up: I think she's great!You can reach News-Times reporter Christine Smith at csmith@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611 "

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