James Madison University

Nursing Students say “Aloha” to Local Seniors

By: Sydney Palese
Posted: November 1, 2012

PHOTO: Senior Prom

Whoever said the electric slide couldn’t bridge the generation gap?

Grass skirts swished over the dance floor, and laughter bounced off the walls of the Festival ballroom as senior citizens boogied alongside nursing students at this year’s eighth annual “Senior Prom” hosted by the JMU Nursing Student Association (NSA.)

 “Isn’t that something?” marveled Janet Timberlake, a prom attendee from Price Rotary Senior Center, looking out onto the dance floor. “I love the music and I love being with the other people.”

This year’s theme was a “Luau,” which the NSA members brought to life with brightly colored leis, tiny cocktail umbrellas adorning tables, printed art depicting island scenes lining the walls and an arch of blue, green and white balloons that served as a backdrop for the traditional prom picture.

Each year, around 20 to 24 members work the night before to transform the ballroom, and then come in an hour before the prom to put the finishing touches on everything.  The senior centers also get involved in the process by making arts and crafts that tie into each year’s theme to bring as decorations and asking family members to bring in costumes.

 “You’d be surprised how into it they get,” said Marlee Flynt, president of NSA.

This year, the dress consisted of grass skirts, hibiscus flowers, coconut bras over vibrantly colored shirts and, of course, an endless sea of Hawaiian print.

Glenn Meyers, a senior in attendance, proudly donned a 28-year-old bright orange button up with white designs reminiscent of the islands. Meyers said he bought it in Hawaii in 1984.

The NSA also awards one male and one female “Best Dressed.” The crowd acted as judges, cheering the loudest for the candidate they felt deserved the honors. Alene Gentry, who won the female title in a magenta straw hat and grass skirt, also held the title the previous year. Displaying the gold painted plaque award she received in a prize gift basket, Gentry said winning “feels wonderful.” The male winner, Bob Gooden, from the East Rockingham Senior Center in Elkton, cemented his victory by carrying around a ukulele.

PHOTO: Senior Prom

During the event, nursing students played many roles, from emceeing to initiating conga lines to waiting on the seniors by bringing them food or drinks.  Meyers said that although his favorite part of the prom was “all of it,” he especially enjoyed being waited on.

The JMU Nursing Student Association is a student-run organization, with over one hundred members, and is one of the most active chapters in Virginia. The association focuses on professional development, community services and awareness. The prom is just one of the many projects they do over the year.

Planning for the prom begins in March, when NSA members decide on a theme and poster design. In May and June, they send out invitations to the local senior centers, and follow up with them to ask for RSVPs. The summer months are dedicated to planning out food and beginning community outreach.   

“The NSA members do an amazing job,” said Heather Campbell, vice president of the organization.

The students also do fundraising to offset the costs of the event. They reach out to local restaurants and hospitals for donations, sell merchandise, including T-shirts, host bake sales and use money from member dues.

Interaction with local seniors has always been a priority for nursing students. In previous years, the students were required to spend time in senior centers as part of their curriculum. Dr. Sandra Annan, faculty advisor to NSA, estimated that this is how the prom got its start. Though the requirement has since been dissolved, Annan maintains the prom “is such a tradition.”

Lisa Gooden, director of the East Rockingham Senior Center, who worked with the nursing students, said “it’s good to see students in a fun side.”

The fun also comes with many benefits that impact the senior centers in a variety of positive ways. Gooden remarked that the prom is important because it gets the seniors out into the community. She added that they enjoy the food, seeing others and being around the youth. “Youth is a big plus.”

“In the geriatric community, there’s a lot of social isolation, so this is a great opportunity for them to leave their homes and feel young again,” said Campbell.

While the prom caters to the senior community, it is also mutually beneficial for the students involved. Dr. Annan said she “really likes students to see that these seniors are just like them. They like to visit with friends, have a nice meal, dress up for fun and dance.”

Campbell said, “When we see them laughing on the dance floor, its completely rewarding. You walk out feeling like you did something, like you brightened that person’s day.”

The afternoon concluded with raffle drawings for gift baskets put together by the nursing students, more dancing, warm farewells and many “thank you’s.” 

Gentry smiled when asked her favorite part of the event, she said dancing is one of the highlights, but that “the friendly girls really make a difference.”