Catalina Springs Memory Care resident

BASIS Oro Valley senior and Oro Valley Youth Advisory Council vice president Jennifer Xiao, assists a Catalina Springs Memory Care resident with his new IPod and headphones.

Logan Burtch-Buus/The Explorer

While most high school students see an iPod and a set of headphones as a source of distraction or a way to listen to their favorite tunes, members of the Oro Valley Youth Advisory Council recently learned that music also provides a unique and memorable opportunity to give back to the community. 

Working with the Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Alliance, YAC members spent a morning with residents of the Catalina Springs Memory Care facility as part of the Music & Memory project, which helps those suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia find renewed emotion and joy by listening to the music of their youth. 

“Music & Memory is a great project to assist people living in memory care units, those suffering from Alzheimer’s or Dementia, especially late-stage,” said SAACA communications director Cait Huble. “Music has been found to be stored in a different part of your brain – and is one of the last places that Alzheimer’s touches. Because of this, those ‘music memories’ sort of stay in that spot, and a lot of times listening to certain songs from the past can trigger a reaction with the residents that may otherwise be nonverbal or uncommunicative. The music kind of brings that spark back.”

After spending the better part of a year fundraising, conducting research and laying out plans, YAC members were finally able to see the impact of all of their hard work. Since starting in the summer, the council raised more than $4,000 in support of the program, which was used to purchase the individual iPods as well as build the customized playlists the YAC members developed after working with residents.

For YAC president and BASIS Oro Valley senior Bodo Lee, and many other members of the youth council, the introduction to Music & Memory came after watching “Alive Inside,” the documentary developed by Music & Memory detailing the specifics and successes of the program.

Lee said that after watching the film he was interested in what he believed to be a fantastic way to learn more about an important issue within the community, as well as an opportunity to give back to others.

“Just seeing the video, it was really heartfelt seeing those people come alive again in front of their families, seeing how amazing that was - it was something that I wanted to be a part of,” Lee said.

“It’s the idea that you could have such a large impact on somebody by doing something small,” said YAC vice president and fellow BASIS senior Jennifer Xiao. “It doesn’t take a lot to fundraise but it does take hard work, but just playing the music for somebody has such a large impact and that really kept me motivated.”

Whether hosting dive-in movie nights at the Oro Valley Aquatic Center, working with local business to host percentage donation events, selling water bottles to the community at various events or looking to family and friends for support, the members of YAC reached their goal, and the long awaited finally came.

‘When we put the headphones on, it was not what I was expected,” Lee said. “The resident I worked with, it almost seemed for a moment like he didn’t belong at a facility for those with Dementia and Alzheimer’s. I couldn’t even tell, he knew some of those songs just by the first few notes, well before any words and I don’t even think I could tell a song that fast, even one that is on the radio every day – but he knew it instantly. It was amazing.”

Enjoying the sounds of Nat King Cole and “Ave Maria” alongside a resident, Lee said that not only was he able to give back to another member of the community, but he also received something in return. Lee said that he has always been taught to work with others and to expand his understanding of the world. Working with the residents of Catalina Springs, Lee said he could think of no better people to help expand his worldview. 

For Oro Valley Councilmember Mary Snider, watching the youth interact with the residents was a special moment, and one she believed each of the teens would carry with them for the rest of their lives. Even more importantly, Snider said that being able to bridge the gap between two different demographics benefits the community as a whole.

“I think it rounds out our community, and it really shows that we are a community of all ages,” Snider said. “We want the seniors to understand that the future is in good hands with our youth – and the youth benefit because they learn personal histories, what people have been through and not all people have multigenerational families so to be able to experience some of those interactions is of huge benefit.”

While the morning spent with the residents was a culmination of months of hard work for the YAC members, none in attendance appreciated the gravity of the interactions between the teens and the elderly more than Marty Waters, wife of Oro Valley Vice Mayor Lou Waters.

Waters began her involvement with the youth council as a volunteer when the program was first conceived in 2012, and said that she was looking for a way to combine her passions for music, youth involvement in the community and the improving the lives of the elderly. After receiving an encouraging response from the memory facility Waters said that with the involvement of Music & Memory, she knew what she had to do.

The YAC members began visiting the residents of Catalina Springs alongside Waters one Saturday a month since 2012, building a strong connection both between the two organizations as well as the youth and the residents.

Four years later and Waters said she felt as though Christmas had come early this year.

“It’s been years in the making and I am so thrilled and honored to have worked with this group of kids who have the biggest hearts and who have so much caring for anybody with a difficulty, young kids or whatever project they take on,” she said.

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