From the outside looking in, Kathy's Kittens preschool in Loyalsock Township appears to be an average daycare facility. As I arrived, the children were just getting settled after performing a song and dance to rid themselves of the "morning jitters." Once I had a chance to visit and speak with the class, it was apparent from the inside looking out, Kittens Preschool is anything but ordinary.
Besides finger-painting, singing and nap time, the children take monthly field trips to visit and participate in various activities with the residents of ManorCare South in Williamsport.
Owner and operator Kathy Foust said she has been taking her students to visit the residents for the past five years. The visits began after a friend and mother of one of the preschoolers, who works at ManorCare South, suggested the idea to Foust.
Braden Ryan, 4, middle left, and Gianna Taylor, 5, play a balloon game with Jack Adkinson, left, and ManorCare South residents
during a visit from Kathy's Kittens Preschool. The children sang Valentine songs and presented Valentines to the residents as
part of their monthly visit.
"The residents at ManorCare South have grown to love the children and look forward to their monthly visits," she said. "We have adopted them (residents) so to speak, as our grandparents."
Members of the preschool class who are responsible for many of the smiles at ManorCare South include, Brooke McNutt, Brandon Ryan, Sofia Stetts, Andrew Hammond, Gianna Taylor and Kristopher Rode.
A favorite game to play for Gianna as well as the residents is "balloon volleyball," where everyone takes turns tossing balloons back and forth to one another. Making various crafts and reading stories also are some of the activities the children and residents enjoy doing together.
"Everyone appreciates their time together," Foust said. "I'm not sure who has more fun during the visits, the kids or the residents."
Andrew, a young boy who has been enrolled at the preschool for two years, has developed a special relationship with a male resident named David.
"He's my buddy and we have a lot of fun," Andrew said.
In January, Andrew's buddy wasn't in the activity room when the students arrived for their monthly visit because he was not feeling well. Staff members at ManorCare took Andrew up to his buddy's room so the two could visit with one another.
"We took a picture of the two together in David's room," Foust said. "It brightened everyone's day, especially David's."
Andrew said he looks forward to the time he spends with his special friend, because they get to laugh and play together. Brooke and Kristopher said they enjoy their time at ManorCare because they get to say hello to all the people and Brandon said it's nice to visit because he gets to see "all the people smile."
Sofia also has fun during her visits. During a recent trip, a female resident who raised 14 children of her own, wanted to hold a few of the children. According to staff, it didn't take long before she got her wish. Foust said Sofia, along with another child, were more than willing to allow an embrace.
"It warms the heart to see the immense joy the children bring to the residents," Foust said. "Their faces instantly light up."
Bonnie Isenberg, activities director at ManorCare South, said the children give the residents something extra to look forward to.
"The residents are more vocal and smile a lot more when the children are here," she said. "It's great for everybody."
The children's past activities at ManorCare South included breakfast with the residents and Santa at Christmas, coloring of eggs during Easter and dressing up in costumes for Halloween. For Valentine's Day, the children at the preschool spent their day passing out Valentine's Day cards they made for all their "special friends" at the facility.
"The faculty and residents are very kind to the kids too," Foust said. "In December, Santa brought all the kids a coloring book."
According to Foust, the idea behind the preschool's community outreach program is to get children accustomed to giving instead of receiving.
"Most of the time children are used to getting things," she said. "The visits to ManorCare teach the students that giving can be rewarding as well."
Foust said the students are informed the residents at ManorCare aren't sick, but rather; their bodies are just tired.
"The kids are not inhibited at all and the residents really appreciate that," she said. "It's amazing how far a hug or a smile can go."
In addition to the monthly visits to ManorCare South, the preschool class is involved in other community outreach programs. Operation Christmas Shoeboxes, in which the students prepare Christmas boxes for the needy, are distributed throughout the area by the Calvary Baptist and St. John United Methodist churches.
The children even took the time to collect food for the local area shelter and food bank, Foust said.
During Earth Day, they spent time outdoors picking up and recycling trash, while learning about the environment.
In addition to learning the ABC's, the children at Kittens preschool are learning that sharing can be fun and at the same time have a positive impact on the lives of others.
According to staff, although the children's visits are generally short, the time well-spent turns into countless memories for the men and women at ManorCare South.
As I was leaving, Andrew summed it up best: "It's fun to make people happy!"