When Veronica Gult’s youngest son failed to pass the test to enter Carnegie Mellon University, he gave her a valuable bit of information: “Don’t let anyone tell you your answers don’t mean anything. They always do.”

The residents at Vincentian de Marillac nursing home in Stanton Heights took his advice to heart when they answered questions about their life from students at Career Connections Charter High School in Lawrenceville.

Four students from the school presented eight residents with “memory jars” on Wednesday, which they created after interviewing residents last month. The jars contained questions and answers about the residents’ lives: their childhood, family, marriage, even their funeral wishes.

“It’s not an everyday thing where you meet new people and at the same time are able to look back at their history,” said Alexis Holmes, 16, of Highland Park, a 10th-grader at the school.

The memory jars are part of a “Pay it Forward” initiative, now in its third year at the school. It gives the students a chance to reach out to the school’s surrounding communities and interact with residents at places like food banks, shelters and nursing homes.

Nearly a month earlier, eight students traveled to Vincentian de Marillac to eat lunch with residents and talk with them one-on-one. The students asked them more than 100 questions about their past and their lives now, including whether they are afraid to die and who their best friend was as a child. Many of the students found themselves sharing things about their own lives, realizing they had more in common with the residents than they thought.

The students returned yesterday with jars, brightly decorated with ribbons, stickers and pictures to reflect the tastes of the residents. Each jar contained strips of paper that held the answers to every question the students asked.

“It was nice remembering all the things from my past,” said Gult, 86. “I never realized I had forgotten so many things until I was asked a question about them.”

“It’s not about the activity the students are doing with the residents, it’s about the connections the students are making,” said Aimi Long, activities manager at Vincentian de Marillac. “The residents are getting to experience the young, and the students are getting the experience of working with the residents.”

They will keep the jars in their rooms, and every day a staff member will pull a “memory” from the jar so they can talk about it.

“Not only do the residents get to go back and reminisce about things in their past, but family members and staff can learn things about the resident they never knew,” Long said.

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Ps 98

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