Lauren Baldwin stood to the right of the chairs in the Parsons Good Samaritan activity room watching as Mary Seaver lifted the Nintendo Wii controller that delivered a bowling ball on the screen down the alley, knocking down eight pins.
Baldwin encouraged an excited Seaver, who moments later captured a spare. Baldwin cheered and gave a smiling Seaver a high five.
Next it was Deborah Haney’s turn. Baldwin talked to her as she bowled, and encouraged her despite the split she wasn’t able to capture.
Baldwin, a member of Girl Scout Troop 70161 under leader Ginny Wommack, decided to pursue her Gold Award by providing activities for the elderly in assisted living facilities.
The Gold Award recognizes girls in grades nine through 12 who demonstrate extraordinary leadership through projects that have a sustainable impact in their communities.
Comparable to the Eagle Scout rank in Boy Scouts, the Gold Award is the highest achievement for a Girl Scout. While only 6% of Girl Scouts nationwide earn the award, Baldwin is the fourth Girl Scout in Wommack’s troop in the last year to accept the challenge and complete a Gold Award project.
“My project, I just call Wii Activity because I couldn’t come up with a super cleaver name, I wanted to incorporate some physical and mental health into the nursing homes and get some intergenerational activity going because it is good for both the girls and the residents here,” Baldwin said. “Whenever I started it, it was more about the mobility. It is where I was kind of coming from at first. As I went on I noticed it helped more with their mental health, just having fun and producing good vibes in here. It became more of the intergenerational part.”
Baldwin said most of the centers she has been to have had a Wii that more often than not was frequently used when first purchased. Then as those initial residents using it moved out or passed on, the Wii’s have sat unused. All it required from her was putting them to use and engaging with some residents to encourage them to have some fun with her.
“I love it,” Seaver said of Baldwin coming twice a month to visit and cheer them on as they play. She used to bowl years ago, and she said she enjoys the fun of the Wii and the fact it gets her moving a bit during Baldwin’s one-hour visits.
“Even though it seems like a really simple thing, it is really fun and they enjoy it quite a bit,” Baldwin said. This can be fun not only as a program, but they have these at several locations so if family comes this is a really fun activity to do with just whoever you are visiting. We usually just do the bowling because it is the easiest for them to do.”
Baldwin said she has been doing the program since September in several facilities, including one in Girard.
At Good Samaritan, she started with a pretty big group, but some who didn’t enjoy it as much filtered out.
“Then we got more excitement as the ones that kept liking it came down,” Baldwin said. “Every time I go to a new place, they are all so excited, just thrilled to have visitors and activities,” she said. “At most of them, we usually have 10 to 12 people participating.”
Part of working toward the Gold Award is creating a project that is sustainable in the community, so Baldwin has been working to try to see her efforts are carried on at the centers.
Seeing the response from the residents, most of the nursing homes have said they would keep the program going, leaving Baldwin to seek volunteers.
“I think I have one group of Girl Scouts that is committed to doing it, and I think I have a couple other groups that are interested and we’re trying to get a hold of them. There is a 4-H group that is thinking about joining in. Then there is a girl in Girard that wants to get her youth group involved, and I think a 4-H group there is interested.”
As the groups take over the project she initiated, the Labette County High School graduate plans to attend Labette Community College this fall to major in photojournalism before transferring, likely to Pittsburg State University.
“I’m very proud of her,” Wommack said. “She’s done a great job with this project and the residents really love it.”