Bingo unites Ellicott City students, Catonsville seniors

One of the lessons students learn at Trinity School in Ellicott City is how to serve others, and it was a lesson that could be seen in action Sunday, April 7 during an afternoon bingo game at St. Martin's Little Sisters of the Poor Nursing Home in Catonsville.

Trinity and St. Martin's have had a relationship for more than 30 years, and they took it to a personal level on Sunday as about a dozen students helped the residents with their cards and chips, read out numbers and wheeled around a prize cart for the lucky ones who called out bingo.


"We were looking for outreach programs that would be suitable for children," Sister Catherine Phelps, principal at Trinity for 42 years, said of the partnership that began in 1982. "We began to realize the need for assistance in nursing home facilities. We stress the quality of service to our students, especially today as the older population is growing."

The school and the home have been partners since the initiation of the Adopted Grandparents Program. Since then, starting at the fifth grade Trinity students correspond with a resident — their "adopted grandparent" — sending letters and small gifts for the holidays. In addition to that program, students also volunteer to help out once a month at bingo games. Phelps said those relationships often last long after students have left Trinity, a pre-K-8 Catholic school.

"I often wonder if some of the students, when they get older, choose to work in geriatrics because of these experiences when they're young," Phelps said. "This is a learning process for the students and they learn about the importance of the mission of the Little Sisters: to serve the elderly poor."

The partnership extends beyond the Adopted Grandparents Program and monthly bingo. Last month, Trinity School held a fundraising luncheon that raised $2,077 for St. Martin's. Phelps presented the check Sunday afternoon.

"About 50 percent of our budget is donations, so we're very grateful," said Sister Lawrence Mary Pocock, development and volunteer coordinator for St. Martin's.

Sister Lourdes Miranda, activities supervisor at St. Martin's, said the residents look forward to the students' visit. Phelps attributed that to the students' "youth and joy and happiness."

Often, the children remind the residents of their own families, Miranda said.

"They miss children," she said. "A lot of the residents' grandchildren live far away, or don't visit, so this becomes very important to them. It seems to give the residents a new life."

Lil Calender, a resident at St. Martin's, said she enjoys the visits from Trinity students.

"It gives us something to look forward to, especially on a Sunday, when things can get quiet and we don't know what to do with ourselves," said Calender, 79. "The kids perk us up. It gives us older ones a perk to see the younger ones around."

Donna Zarzuela, a Trinity parent, said the partnership was a good "hands-on community service experience" for the students.

"This is also a way to set a precedent at such a young age, that we are here to serve others," she said. "When the students grow up and have this service as a normal part of their life, I hope it means that they continue to serve."

Helping others can be just plain fun, too, said Heaven Williams, 8, a second-grader at Trinity on her first trip to St. Martin's.

"Helping others feels good," she said. "Today was a happy day."


Audrey Zarzuela, a Trinity fifth-grader, said while helping out with bingo was fun, getting to spend time with the residents was the best part of the day.

"I think it's fun for them when they have new people come help out," she said. "I think it made them feel loved, and it made me feel pretty good. Little things can make people happy."