Each Thursday after school, 15 students from Mariemont High School hop on the bus. Instead of heading home, their destination is the Hyde Park Health Center. These students are part of a photography-based service organization called New Voices.
Over the course of ten weeks, students meet, interact and bond with local Alzheimer’s patients. They help cook, carve pumpkins, decorate for the holidays, and share life experiences together.
The program was founded by David Rosenthal in 2002. “It began with the School for Creative and Performing Arts, which was right across the street from the homeless center. There was a lot of controversy,” says Rosenthal. “I thought it would be interesting for the students to have a voice, as well as the guys living in the drop-in center.”
“We went out in the area and photographed scenes and people together. We found common ground and looked at images of the community and how it was changing: what was positive and what was negative,” says Rosenthal.
“At the end of the program, the students wrote letters to the school board and local newspaper editors, taking a stand on the issue; they wrote about what it was like to be going to school next to the largest homeless shelter in the city,” Rosenthal says.
Since 2002, Rosenthal has coordinated over 50 programs in partnership with 12 local high schools.
He says, “We’ve connected students with veterans experiencing PTSD, people recovering from addiction and children living in poverty. It’s all about kids coming together to learn about an issue.”
Mariemont High School art teacher Kim Richardson has led New Voices at the high school for the past four years.
“Two years ago we worked with Avondale Junior High, a place most Mariemont kids had never heard of. It was very eye-opening and led to some great discussion, which cleared up misconceptions about gun violence and drugs,” says Richardson. “The Mariemont students had a preconceived view of the OTR students and vice versa, but they all found common ground and forged friendships.”
At the end of each program, students create a project to give back to the group. “It’s important for both groups to express what they learn from each other with some visual work,” says Rosenthal.
Richardson says, “It brings joy into these people’s lives and gives them something to look forward to, plus it teaches our kids patience.”
Senior Emma Phillips has been learning to knit with Rachel, a 95-year-old resident at the Hyde Park Health Center. “I like working with people i wouldn’t normally socialize with; I’ve learned that I can connect with people who are different than me. The best part is bonding with Rachel and getting to know her. She’s taught me that age doesn’t slow you down,” says Phillips.
Rachel adds, “I love young people, and I think of these girls as little sisters whom I'm trying to teach.”
Sophomore Anna Scheeser is working with a patient named Bob. She says, “Bob shares a ton of life advice, so it’s been really cool to hear about his experiences and opinions. It’s neat to get his perspective on how things have changed since he was alive in the 1950s.”
Scheeser says, “I really like the whole aspect of how we’re paired with another person. You’re going to find out about them, and they’re going find out about you, which is great because Bob is at a different stage of his life. I love learning about a different perspective.”
Rosenthal affirms this is the most important lesson for students.“The common thread is putting a face on an issue, whether it’s people who are in any marginalized or dependent circumstances,” he says. “It’s special being able to empower the people we work with by giving them a voice.”