Estacada High student gives Whispering Pines residents something to talk about
by: Gus Jarvis Estacada High School Senior Anna Simmons is joined by Whispering Pines Administrative Assistant Sherri Schofield in front of Simmons’ “Tree of Life” project.

To say that Estacada High School senior Anna Simmons simply created a beautiful piece of art as part of her senior project is an understatement. Her work has and will brighten the lives of residents at Whispering Pines Senior Village.

After more than four months of dedicated work with the intermittent help of her fellow students, Simmons recently finished her large 'Tree of Life' painting that greets the 60 or so senior residents at the independent living facility at 525 N.W. Sixth Ave.

The large and colorful 'Tree of Life' carries the names of all the residents who have lived there since it opened in 2003 and has created a place where senior residents gather to talk, look up friends' names or, even, just find their own names scrolled on a leaf of the tree.

'I'm really proud of it,' Simmons said, as she prepared for a week away from school during her spring break. 'I put a lot of time into it and I'm really glad they appreciate it. I hope it helps them come together in the hallway to talk to each other about it and remember their friends.'

And while it's only been finished for over a few weeks, Whispering Pines Administrative Assistant Sherri Schofield said, it's already had a big impact.

'We get people who walk in here and go, 'Wow. Look at this,'' Schofield said. 'At first people think it has all the names of residents at the present time, and actually it has all the names of the residents who have lived here. It shows a timeline of sorts. The reaction has really been positive.

'Every day, there are one or two seniors looking for their name. It gets them out of their apartments and interacting with each other even more.'

Schofield and Whispering Pines Community Administrator Lisa Homan are constantly searching for projects to bring Estacada students and residents together that would be a benefit to both.

Several student volunteers participated in planning and decorating a Halloween party at Whispering Pines. Both Schofield and Homan thought of more possibilities that would create student and senior interactions, one of which was the creation of a timeline.

And that is where Simmons came in. She took the timeline idea and turned it into the 'Tree of Life' conception and began planning her project.

'We both loved the tree idea,' Schofield said. 'There are so many ways she could have done this and decided that she would feel comfortable doing a tree. She was very dedicated to the project and did a great job in making it comfortable. The whole point of this is to bring our youth together with our seniors.'

Schofield said there were a few artist residents who were eager to assist Simmons in her work.

'They would stop by every now and then and talk about what I am doing,' Simmons said. 'They were really friendly, and it was nice to have them there. I love their stories. Most of them have great stories to share. They are really sweet people, and I think they appreciated seeing some a new face in there.'

Simmons used a variety of colors to paint the tree, thanks to Estacada True Value Hardware, which donated all the paint for the project.

'They were very generous,' Schofield said, adding that she hopes the project will be a springboard of even more student projects to come. 'I am going to continue to look for reasons to bring kids here.'

As for Simmons, after graduation she intends to continue to work with seniors in whatever direction that may take her.