At an October Rogers Park Business and Artist Networking breakfast, an employee of the Alden Village North Health Facility asked me if I thought that the dancers of the youth-lead 808s: Youth Empowerment thru Dance group might consider performing for some of the residents at their facility, located near Howard and Sheridan in Rogers Park.
I never knew much about the Alden Village North facility, except that their building frontage used to display a wonderful mosaic. I figured that the Alden home was another one of the many nursing facilities that are scattered throughout the neighborhood, particularly along Sheridan Road. Yet I was pleased that the 808 youth – eager to take advantage of any chance to dance in public – embraced this opportunity to perform in this less conventional setting.
After a couple of scheduling mishaps, five of the 808s boys appeared at the Alden North facility on Thursday, December 15th, to perform a holiday show.
The staff person who graciously met us at the door asked the dancers if they would be okay performing in two separate day rooms, as neither day room could accommodate all of their residents who might be interested in seeing the show.
The staff then escorted us up an elevator, down a hallway and into a room filled with ten to twelve residents, all severely impacted cerebral palsy patients, nearly all confined to wheel chairs.
Without hesitation, the 808s dancers focused on setting up a sound system, and once it was ready and the Alden staff wheeled in a couple of additional residents, the young men performed a spirited and entertaining ten minute dance set, performed to a mix of traditional Christmas melodies (imagine urban dance movement to the song “12 Days of Christmas") and a couple of songs containing hip hop beats. The dancers repeated this routine once again in another day room.
I am familiar with cerebral palsy, a condition caused when a newborn is deprived of oxygen at birth. My aunt suffered from this condition, a far more mild case than those young people at Alden. She died a year ago at the age of 83, having lived a full functional life, having actually taught at a school for cerebral palsy residents for over 25 years, and enjoying a successful 52 year marriage.
Yet my aunt's condition was not nearly as severe as the residents at the Alden Home. At first it is disturbing and difficult to view a community where young folks are inflicted with such a severe condition. Most are confined to a wheelchair, and are subject to a shaking condition and involuntary movements. Only a few can articulate discernable thoughts. Though my aunt was an intelligent and vibrant woman often frustrated because most people would initially think that she was also mentally incompetent, I presumed that at the Alden facility, most patients also suffered from some form of a mental impairment, though I really don't know. What is apparent is that the condition of these residents is so severe that it is unlikely they will ever experience the quality of life that so many of us take for granted – simple joys like taking a walk, engaging in conversation, or even feeding ourselves, are simply not available to these folks.
I was also impressed with the compassionate and dedicated care that the residents received from the Alden staff, which seemed keenly engaged with their jobs. Depending on the residents' capability, the staff encouraged them to clap along, sing, or somehow interact with the dancers. Few of the patients seemed able to offer the dancers direct eye contact – and though it seemed many could hardly comprehend what was happening in the room, I also sensed that the dancers somehow connected with many of these residents, and with the caretakers, directing a positive energy and love to them. One more able resident actually lead us in song, a clear highlight of the afternoon.
During the 1960s, many of lavish single-family homes that graced Sheridan Road in Rogers Park were replaced with nursing home facilities. Most of us give these facilities little thought as we drive, walk or ride our bikes past, though at times we do take note of the residents of these facilities who sit, linger and socialize on their terraces or patios when weather permits. What many of us don't know is that in some of these facilities – like the Alden North home – compassionate and important work is being done inside, out of view to those of us who live in the community.
It must be incredibly challenging for staff to provide humane treatment to those who are most severely impacted by handicap. I salute the staff at the Alden Village North Home for their great work.
I also applaud the five young men of the 808s dance program for helping enrich the lives of the Alden residents, even if in a small way, that one afternoon earlier this month.
We should also applaud ourselves. A great society ought to be judged on how we treat the most severely impacted amongst us. The Alden Village North Health Facility furnishes evidence that despite the budgetary woes our society presently experiences, we are devoting resources to providing compassionate care to those most challenged.
For more information about the Alden Village North Health Facility: www.aldenvillagenorth.com
Information about the 808s: Youth Empowerment thru Dance: https://808syouthdance.wordpress.com/
Several members from the North of Howard youth lead dance group "808: Youth Empowerment thru Dance" performing at the Alden Village North Facility on Sheridan near Howard.