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7's Hero: Timberline High School jazz musicians play music outside a nursing home

Two students volunteered to play jazz outside the Emerson House in Boise. They entertained the residents, who are not allowed to have visitors due to coronavirus.

BOISE, Idaho — Last week, Governor Brad Little set out a series of recommendations for Idahoans to prevent the spread of COVID-19. One of them was not visiting nursing homes, retirement homes or long-term care facilities unless you are there to provide critical assistance. That means even family members are banned from visiting their loved ones. That's a hard pill to swallow for local seniors and their families.

The staff at Harrison's Hope Hospice in Meridian wanted to do something to help out senior citizens who are sequestered in nursing homes during this difficult time. 

"We just feel like we had to step out of the box and help our seniors. They are used to having music, they are used to having people come in and visit, and they can't right now," said Jennifer Smith of Harrison's Hope Hospice.

Jennifer Smith, a Boise Community Liason for Harrison's Hope decided to reach out on the popular neighborhood app, Next Door in southeast Boise. She was blown away by the number of people who wanted to help.

"The response was just phenomenal, people wanting to donate puzzles and coloring books and perform music if they couldn't afford to give," Smith said. "We had a lady reach out, she's a professor at BSU and she's not working right now, and she wanted to do something for our seniors. She played her accordion outside one of our facilities, and the response was so great and the smiles on their faces!"

That video of Boise State Professor Elisa Barney playing her accordion outside a nursing home was posted on social media, and people all over the Treasure Valley were so touched by it.

"It melted my heart," said Jalene Wells of Harrison's Hope Hospice. "People were so amazed."

It was so special for the residents that Jennifer decided to try it again. This time, two local Timberline High School students and musicians. Josh Dittrich and Minjun Kwak, stepped up and volunteered to play jazz on their saxophones. 

They showed up at Emerson House Memory Care, a care facility in Boise, to play for the residents.

"Seniors in high school, they don't have to wake up in the morning, but they did to come here and play for our seniors," said Executive Director of Emerson House Bryce Saxton. "Usually, we have a lot of people come in and play music and live stream music, bring pets, and all kinds of things and our residents are used to that interaction. It's been tough the last few days not to have those interactions, and it's been tough for families also who want to come in and see their loved ones. We're asking that no families come and visit right now."

The students set up outside, and the residents crowded around the windows inside to hear a private jazz performance. We sent a small camera in with the staff to capture their reactions. 

The boys were so touched to see how the residents responded. Just like all students in our area, Josh and Minjun are out of school because of the spread of COVID-19.

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"It's pretty overwhelming," Dittrich said about the state of the world today. "It's pretty crazy, just a lot of mystery and unknown right now."

These boys love to play music, and they want to give back. That's why they're here. They'll tell you, this performance means so much to them both.

"Just to see the genuine joy we are bringing out in them. They just seem like genuinely so happy, that's what music is supposed to do to a person," said Dittrich. "We all need each other at this time, just as much as we need toilet paper. We all need each other through this hectic, chaotic time."

Saxton said the people who live at Emerson House Memory Care were overjoyed to hear their music. It brought back a simpler time.

"It's so neat to see a younger generation being willing to do this," said Saxton. "Schools are closed, they are home, and they decided to do something good for the world."

If you'd like to volunteer to play music for our seniors outside of area rest homes, please contact Harrison's Hope Hospice. They would love to hear from you. You can call Jennifer Smith at (208) 947-6800. 

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