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WNY's Great Kids: Teen Helps Patients with Memory Loss Through Artwork

Genevieve Fontana, a junior at Lancaster High School and Girl Scout Gold Award recipient, is working with residents with memory loss at GreenField Health and Rehabilitation. They're creating works of art inspired by Buffalo to hopefully spark some memories.

LANCASTER, NY- She's just a student at Lancaster High School, but at GreenField Health and Rehabilitation Center, Genevieve Fontana is an art teacher, pseudo therapist and friend.

The 16-year-old began volunteering there in 2017 as part of her service project for the Girl Scouts most prestigious honor: the Gold Award.

"I love art and I love to help people," Fontana said.

So she combined the two and trained with the Alzheimer's Association to create an art program with the hopes of triggering memories for patients with Alzheimer's and dementia.

Each work of art was inspired by places around Buffalo including the Buffalo Zoo, Botanical Gardens, Burchfield Penney Nature Center and Crystal Beach.

"They talked about the suckers, the sugar waffles, the Comet, so that spurred memories," said Mary Beth Mego, GreenField’s activities director.

Even those who could not verbally communicate were still able to express their feelings, emotions, and memories on paper.

"I think art always brings people joy,” Fontana said. “So I think a lot of them were proud of what they created and a lot of them hang them in their room and see it everyday and say, ‘did I really do that?’"

Pat Albrechcinski couldn't believe her eyes when she saw the masterpieces created by her 96-year-old mother, Theresa Testa.

"It keeps her relaxed. It keeps her social. She colors in coloring books every day in her room. I think it just awakens her," Albrechcinski said.

And she thanks young Genevieve for that, which is why she nominated her to be featured by 2 On Your Side as one of WNY’s Great Kids.

"I'm amazed at what a gifted girl she is. I think she's going to go a long way," Albrechcinski said.

Genevieve only needed 80 hours of community service for her Gold Award service project. Still months after achieving the prestigious award, she continues to work with the GreenField residents once a month.

"She's always patient with our residents. Our residents love her," said Mego.

In addition to working at Greenfield, Genevieve carries a 97 grade point average, plays the cello, is a member of Students Against Destructive Decisions and numerous honor societies. She’s also involved in Erie County 4-H, showing goats, sheep and chickens on her family’s farm. It’s her art project with the people at Greenfield, however, that has meant the most to her.

"I definitely have built a relationship with all these residents that I didn't think I would have. It's pretty much my dream job,” she said.

If you’d like to nominate a young person or group making a difference in WNY, e-mail Melissa.Holmes@wgrz.com or call 716-849-2216.