If Country Villa Housing Coordinator Sarah Schmidt could use one word to describe the monthly Sounds of Sunday event at the assisted-living community in Sartell, she would use “joy.”
The musical performance and social hour for residents at the assisted living neighborhood in the Country Manor Sartell campus is put together by Project Blue Star, a student-run project started by Tech High School senior Fyzeen Ahmad.
Ahmad, who began playing violin when he was in sixth grade, said music has always been something that’s brought people together, including his family and in his orchestra class.
“It’s always been a very unifying thing in my life,” Ahmad said.
A member of service-based organization National Honor Society, Ahmad was connected to Country Manor through Tech High School English teacher and National Honor Society Advisor Beth Fenstad, whose husband works as an administrator there.
“He reached out because he knows that as part of National Honor Society, all students must participate in volunteer and service within the community and school,” Fenstad said.” And then when he reached out to me, he asked to have a meeting and to discuss his idea regarding outreach to seniors in our community and whether or not we could incorporate some more students to be involved in the project.”
The project’s first music session was on a Sunday in November and has had three more in December, January and February, with the specific Sundays changing depending on availability like holidays, Ahmad said. Sessions are also planned for March and April.
The students playing with Ahmad have also changed, from other violinists and a cellist, to brass instrument players and a guitar player.
“It’s just cool to perform and brighten their day,” said Tech High School sophomore and Project Blue Star performer Alex Walk, who plays guitar and viola.
Some students who come along with the group don’t play instruments, but use the time to watch the performance and socialize with the residents.
Tech High senior and NHS member Fahmo Abdi, who watched the February performance, said she likes getting to know people and hear their stories.
Ahmad also brings games, like chess and mancala, or activity supplies like paper for origami. He also invites others to bring games they grew up playing, which he considers a facilitator for conversation.
About half or more of the hour-long program is dedicated to socializing. Students talk about what they’re doing at school or their plans for the future and residents answer questions about what they did for work or where they grew up, Schmidt said.
Due to the pandemic, students follow precautions before performing, such as taking temperatures, filling out symptom questionnaires and staying home if ill.
“Some of them, I’d say the good majority of our residents, do have grandchildren or things like that. But I think COVID has changed all that so much that people aren’t getting together and seeing each other like they have and so this offers a really safe way for us to have them have that connection with the younger generation,” Schmidt said.
The group’s visits are a nice break, said Country Villa resident Beverly Edenborg.
“I came here in September so I’ve seen them quite a few times. It’s one of my favorite groups,” said Country Villa resident Suzanne Johnson.
In addition to his time at Country Villa, Ahmad, who said he would like to study computational neuroscience and become a doctor, likes to watch basketball with his brother, play soccer and is captain of his school’s math team.
He’s also recently attended the Central Minnesota Council on Aging’s new coalition on social isolation and loneliness January meeting. The coalition aims to address isolation and loneliness in greater St. Cloud, and Ahmad has offered to help the coalition connect with other students, said the council’s Healthy Aging Coordinator Steve Hoover.
Ahmad, whose parents are from Bangladesh, said the Bangladeshi national flower is the lotus, with one type called a blue star lotus. For many regions of southern Asia, the lotus represents rebirth, a connection between young and old, Ahmad said.
“And so having that prior knowledge about a blue star lotus, it just felt right to name our organization that connects students and seniors, young people and older people after this really symbolic flower,” Ahmad said.
Ahmad said he hopes he can put together an NHS member vote to decide who will lead the project next year.
“It’s very fun, and I hope they also find the joy in talking to us,” Ahmad said.