Annual Mayo Ball delights senior citizens at Mayo nursing home

mayo_ballAs in past years, around Valentine’s Day, Norwich Cadets don dress blues and make their way to the Mayo Healthcare nursing home in Northfield for the annual Mayo Ball.

Nicole DiDomenico, the Director of Civic Engagement, Service Learning and Campus Partnerships in the Center for Civic Engagement (CCE), said that event has been going on for about 28 years.

The Mayo Ball brightens the spirits of the elderly who stay at the Mayo Clinic, according to DiDomenico.

Each year, reactions to the ball are the same. “They really look forward to it all year long and the day leading to it is really exciting down there. It’s all they talk about,” said DiDomenico.

DiDomenico helps organize the event with the help of Norwich students, and the Mayo Ball this year, just like past years, was a successful, emotional and rewarding event for all who attended.

“Every year we’ve been the ones to coordinate it and I rely strong on student leaders to do (that kind) of event coordination,” DiDomenico said. “We already had a student performing her work study down at the Mayo Center as a community based work study student through our office (and) we asked her if she would help to coordinate it this year.”

That student is freshman Amy Gordon, said DiDomenico.

Other volunteer programs through the CCE also assist with the Mayo Ball.

“The only role that I play in it is that I ask our Buddy Up youth mentoring program if our mentors could encourage our mentees, who come on to campus every Friday night, to make some Valentine’s day cards for the seniors that would be attending the ball,” DiDomenico said.

Buddy Up is a program at Norwich where students from the school do activities, play games and teach things to the kids from the community every Friday night.

The Friday before the Mayo Ball the young kids (the mentees) made the cards for the seniors at the Mayo Clinic, DiDomenico said.

“We order some carnations from Trombly’s Florist, which is down the street. We make sure that those get delivered so that each of our cadet dates are coming with card and flower in hand,” DiDomenico said.

Gordon, as the main organizer of the event, assigned each of the cadets to a resident, DiDomenico said.

There were about 36 students who attended the ball this year, DiDomenico said.

For a few students, volunteering at the Mayo Ball was not anything new. But for Kendall Manning, a 19-year-old sophomore construction management and architecture major from Windham, Maine, this was the first time she had participated in the ball.

“I’m an avid volunteer, pretty much anywhere, especially at the Center for Civic Engagement. I have volunteered one to three times a week, every week since the semester started,” Manning said.

Manning is one of the cadets that run the Rotaract club on campus.

“This (is) a little special because it’s a corps-only event so there’s definitely a different group of people with a little bit of a different mindset,” Manning, a said.

Some students, like Lisa McCarthy, a 19-year-old sophomore, found out about the Mayo Ball through the Rotaract Club and not just the CCE.

The Rotaract club is the college version of the internationally based Rotary club, which is a volunteer service organization, said McCarthy, a criminal justice major from Quincy, Mass.

“It’s an excellent opportunity to provide folks (with company) who may not have family or other friends to visit them,” McCarthy said.

The volunteers were assigned with a resident who best matches up with them by Amy Gordon, DiDomenico said.

“She will talk to the student volunteers a little bit just to say ‘are you looking for somebody who wants to dance all night long?’ or ‘are you looking for somebody who wants to be more relaxed?’” DiDomenico said.

For a lot of students the resident they’re matched with makes the night a joyful one.

First-time participant James Spear, a 20-year-old from Batavia, N.Y., said he thoroughly enjoyed his time with his date.

“The lady I danced with, Missy, she was 93 years old and she was telling me how she hasn’t danced in over two decades (but) she was out there dancing like there was no tomorrow,” said Spear, a sophomore construction management major.

The Mayo Ball is a very rewarding night for many residents and helps them physically and emotionally, Spear said.

“The gentleman that sat with us, his wife had passed away recently and he had not opened up at all, he had not come out of his room at all, he’d been very upset,” Spear said. “At the Mayo Ball he got up and he was dancing.”

All of the students who take part in the ball notice the changes that it makes in the residents.

Daniel Colon, an international studies major from Boynton Beach, Fla., was participating in his fourth and final year in the event, which he said can have a big impact on the residents.

“They always look forward to it weeks prior and they talk about for weeks to months after the event,” said Colon, a 21-year-old senior.

As the cadets learn from the ball, each resident has a different story to tell.

“All of these people in the retirement home have lost a loved one of some sort. For some of them, they have absolutely no family in the area, including my date,” Colon said. “We’re the only ones that (visit).”

The Mayo Ball volunteers are brought together by the CCE but the entire event otherwise is put on by the Mayo Clinic, DiDomenico said.

“They pay for all the food, all the decorations, I know that they spend a lot of time helping the residents get ready,” DiDomenico said. “The rest of it, like the music and the food and the decorations, are all set up by the Mayo activity staff.”

The most important part of the event is the volunteers, though.

For Kyle Sawyer, another one of the students that runs the Rotaract club at Norwich, the Mayo Ball was a rewarding event.

“When all the cadets walk in in blues, you can just see all the ladies’ faces brighten up (and) even the men,” Sawyer, a 20-year-old from Livermore, Maine, said.

Sawyer, who is a junior criminal justice major, said that the cadets make a personal connection with their dates by the end of the night because they talk about their lives. As a result, the entire night is a beneficial event for both cadets and residents.

It also has some memorable scenes. Cadets walk their dates through an arc of swords put on by the Norwich drill team, they eat dinner, dessert, talk and dance, Manning explained

At the end of the night “(the) cadets (walk) the residents back to their rooms and every year there’s tears and the residents really hope to see the cadets again and that it doesn’t take them a full year to go back,” DiDomenico said.

The volunteer-based event is held every year, and each year the residents and cadets are left with a happy feeling in their hearts.

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