BOERNE — Girl Scout McKenna Albrecht is helping residents revive their memories through music therapy at San Antonio’s St. Francis Nursing Home.
As part of her Gold Award Project, “Music For Minds, Improving the Lives of Senior Citizens,” the 16-year-old Boerne-Champion High School junior played blasts from the past for 10 residents of the facility.
“I figured out what kind of music they like, but also what kind of music brought memories for them, what specific song would make them think of a loved one that they lost or a specific time when they were younger,” Albrecht said.
The Troop 545 Scout requested to work with those who have Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or depression. Medical research indicates hearing familiar sounds, including favorite tunes, can improve memory care.
Jazmin Longoria, project adviser and weekend activities assistant at St. Francis, has seen a positive change in some folks after Albrecht’s visits.
“Just seeing it and being a part of it was very amazing,” Longoria said.
A Gold Award is the highest achievement in Scouting, and when completed, Albrecht will be recognized at an event next year.
Beverly Albrecht, the Scout’s mom, thinks it’s great the organization gives young women a way to give back to their community.
“You’re the one who chooses (the project), but it has be something that (makes) a difference,” Albrecht said.
St. Francis was built in 1992 under the Seraphic Sisters, an order of Franciscan nuns, and is a Catholic facility focusing on long-term care. It’s at 630 W. Woodlawn Ave. in the Alta Vista neighborhood.
Research for the teen’s project began in May and got underway in July. She surveyed the individuals to learn their likes, especially in music.
The residents’ family and friends also helped Albrecht discover preferred melodies.
“The families … love being a part of the project. They love seeing it because it did make them happy,” Longoria said.
Originally, Albrecht visited the facility nearly a dozen times. Meetings with each resident lasted 20 minutes to an hour or more, and she bonded with many.
“I really enjoyed it. It was the highlight of my week,” Albrecht said.
The teen posted flyers seeking donations of new or used iPods, iPhones, CD players, headphones and chargers, plus iTunes gift cards, and the requested items and monetary gifts started appearing.
Inspiration for the project came from the Scout’s grandmother, Hilda Albrecht, who suffered a stroke earlier this year. The family looked for ways to augment her recovery.
The grandmother perked up when loved ones played her favorite music. Today, with help, she can walk and seems sharp and happy, the Albrechts said.
Kami Fielder, Troop 545’s leader, said the Scout’s mission started as a family affair, which eventually expanded to many others.
“That’s the kind of project you want to have, something that is dear to your heart,” Fielder said.
Although the project ended after seven weeks, Albrecht still frequents St. Francis when she’s not busy with school, playing clarinet in the marching band, or active in church.
There were challenges, but also unforgettable instances, the junior said. In one case, a resident seemed very unhappy, but connected with the music another time. Later, the elderly person said she was thankful for the therapy and looked forward to seeing Albrecht.
“I could tell at that moment that it was really touching her heart and it made me so happy as a mom to see that she was doing the project and was helping them,” Beverly Albrecht said.
Many residents would start to sing, hum, tap and even dance. Several favorites included Frank Sinatra and mariachi tunes.
Longoria said the music remains alive at St. Francis as staffers continue to use the therapeutic technique via Albrecht’s donated music devices and albums.
Since then, the Scout has been contacted by a nursing home outside Austin to help develop a similar program.