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Young people continue to give back

Robert Stewart Jr. reached into a brown paper bag and pulled out a softball-sized orange and a polished, red apple.

He walked clockwise around the room while he sang “Joy to the World.” Stewart paused in front of each elderly person, leaned close, placed fruit in their hands and said, “Merry Christmas.”

“So many times we forget about people,” Stewart said. “During these challenging economic times, service is essential.”

Stewart, Timothy Purdie Jr., Courtney Cole, Coleysia Chestnut and Frank Chestnut brought gift baskets to Park Place Nursing and Rehabilitation Center Tuesday. The life-long friends have been visiting Park Place every Christmas since they were members of the Echo Memory Club at Selma High School.

Now, they attend different universities across the state. Stewart, Purdie and Frank Chestnut attend Tuskegee University. Cole attends Stillman College, and Coleysia Chestnut attends Alabama A&M University.

While they are home celebrating Christmas with family and friends, they still make time to visit the elderly at Park Place. Purdie said many of the Park Place residents paved the way for his generation.

“If we don’t give back, we’re taking for granted everything they did for us,” he said.

Frank Chestnut said it is just a matter of priorities.

“We’re full of ideas and full of energy,” he said. “Giving back is a top priority.”

They take photos with the elderly each year, sing Christmas carols and give out gifts.

Stewart said he felt fortunate to have the opportunity to give back to the people of the town he loves so much.

“We should put people first.”

Park Place activity director Diane Steele said the students have a genuine love for Selma and its people.

“I think they want to continue giving back to the community,” Steele said.

For Coleysia Chestnut, it is also personal. Chestnut’s grandfather received treatment at Park Place before he died.

“Coming here reminds me a little of him,” she said.

Cole said she wants to set an example for younger people, much like the elderly folks at Park Place did for her.

“This is a time of giving and sharing,” she said.

After all the goodies were handed out, the quintet hung around and visited more with the elderly. They listened to stories about card games and pianos while a stereo softly played Christmas music.

Steele said this interaction between two generations, not gifts, is what is truly important.

“If you don’t have a love for people, you’re lost.”