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Henderson boy, 11, volunteers at memory-care facility

Amid the bustling dining room in Poet’s Walk Henderson, dinner is served amid the buzz of conversation. Workers and aides move about the room; the quickest is a suit-clad young boy who whisks from table to table, serving plates, pouring drinks and making conversation.

Evan Stark is 11, and this has been his routine for two months. The Henderson resident volunteers at the home for patients suffering from dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and other memory impairments. Fueled by his deep relationship with a grandmother who passed away two years ago at 80, Evanvisits Poet’s Walk two to three times a week for four to six hours at a time. The sixth-grader at Del Webb Middle School typically plays board games with residents, makes conversation and serves meals.

“I came my first day and I stayed for six hours and I was like, ‘This is so much fun; can I go back tomorrow?’ And I loved it,” Evan said.

Mark Shaffer, executive director of Poet’s Walk, said Evan has boosted morale, but he had concerns about Evan volunteering at the outset.

“I thought, ‘Well, he’s going to come for about half an hour, kick the ball around, then he’ll leave.’ But when he came the first day, I never would have expected him to wear a suit, and he came in with a lunch, and he stayed,” Shaffer said. “He did puzzles, Connect 4, checkers. I was stunned.”

Most residents have difficulty communicating with staffers, which Shaffer thought might have caused problems for Evan.

“(Residents) can’t always communicate to us directly what they need, so we’re always trying to interpret not only what they’re saying, but their body languages at the same time,” Shaffer said, adding that Evan “just kind of flows with it and kind of gets it.”

Evan had a close relationship with his paternal grandmother, often turning down plans with friends to be with her. He said they would regularly play Yahtzee and Go Fish and watch TV together, and volunteering at Poet’s Walk reminds him of being with his grandmother.

“He knows Grandma is in a better place,” said Ira Stark, Evan’s father. “He kept a picture with her, still has it, and he talks to her.”

Staffers at Poet’s Walk have noticed Evan’s effect on residents.

“He’s young and he always has that smile; nothing really bothers him,” said Jim Retter, director of dining services.

Evan says he plans to join the Navy, and Shaffer said volunteering and building relationships with the residents might shape the course of Evan’s life.

“I think his career path is going to be altered now because of his experience doing this, in a positive, meaningful way,” Shaffer said. “If you care like this at 11, imagine how much you’re going to care about people when you’re 20.”

Evan’s focus for now is on lifitng spirits and making his grandmother proud.

“I tell him ‘Son, Grandma’s always with you,’” his father said.

Contact Diego Mendoza-Moyers at dmendozamoyers@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0496. Follow @dmendozamoyers on Twitter.

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