Pirkko Lehtonen beams as she looks through a scrapbook about her life created by Grade 12 Lasalle Secondary School students Kaci Bretzlaff and Paige Cadwell.
The scrapbook, which contains photos and written stories, documents the 87-year-old's childhood in Finland, her 1952 move to Canada, her family, and her work at a downtown Sudbury ladies store.
It's the product of 10 weeks of interviews the students conducted this past fall with Lehtonen, a resident of Finlandia's Hoivakoti long-term care facility. “They were so nice, those girls,” she said.
The students created Lehtonen's memoirs as part of their Individuals in a Diverse Society class — otherwise known as family studies. Lasalle has been partnering with Finlandia on the memoirs project for the past seven years.
Speaking at a Jan. 9 Finlandia reception where the scrapbooks were presented to the seniors, Bretzlaff said she enjoyed hearing about Lehtonen's life, especially given that things were so different when Lehtonen was young.
Spending time with seniors is something Bretzlaff enjoys. Her mother is the hairdresser at Extendicare York, and the teen often volunteers her time there.
She said she's considering becoming a personal support worker because she likes working with seniors.
Cadwell said she also enjoyed the project. She said she's learned that it's important to take the time to truly get to know people.
“I got to meet someone amazing and who I consider my friend,” she said. “I come and visit her now. It was truly an amazing process. I was so glad to be a part of it.”
The girls' teacher, Kathy LeBreton, said her family studies students learn about the stages of life, and spending time with the seniors is the perfect way to animate the material.
Many students can't wait for their weekly visit with the seniors, and the seniors themselves feel the same way, she said. “You can see it in the smiles on their faces when the students come into the building,” LeBreton said.
She said the project helps to “bridge the gap” between the generations, showing them that they aren't that different from each other, after all.
Some of the seniors who have participated in the memoirs project over the years have since passed away, she said, and often, the scrapbooks are laid out at the funeral home for family members to look at.
“There's so many times where their family looks and it and says 'I didn't know that about my dad or my grandfather,' and they learn so much more,” LeBreton said. “It's really nice to see.”