Do you remember playing croquet in your backyard as a child on those long summer evenings?

The Jiminy Wicket® Foundation’s award winning Through Hoops to Hope® service/learning program* trains and equips high-school students to play croquet indoors with the residents of a local senior care community. Every two weeks, seniors go to the school for a safe, weatherproof and playful outing.

In the fall of 2017, 10 agents from New York Life volunteered to help run this program for the academic year in 10 metro Denver schools.

New York Life insurance agent Sarah Kane met James Creasey, founder of Jiminy Wicket, at a networking event and decided to volunteer with her colleagues. She had grown up playing croquet with her grandfather and had been a companion to him as Alzheimer’s disease steadily took over his life.

“Jiminy Wicket croquet provides such a simple and playful way to be with the elderly. I love it,” Kane said.

Jiminy Wicket has trained more than 1,000 students from 20 high schools in Denver to play croquet with seniors who have a wide range of cognitive and physical abilities, including users of walker frames and wheelchairs, resulting in tens of thousands of inter-generational connections.

More than 65 percent of Americans in long-term care receive an average of one visit per year from a friend or family member, according to the Older Americans Report. The study shows that older adults experience feelings of isolation and fear. Other studies have indicated that many high school students have the same feelings.

Jiminy Wicket organizers believe in the power of play to create connection across the generations. The Through Hoops to Hope program transforms isolation into connection and fear into friendship for the young and old alike.

“This has completely changed my view of young people,” said a 63-year-old participant. Another participant, a 95-year-old woman said, “They told me this was going to be fun. They didn’t say it would be this much fun.” And one of the 16 year olds in the program said, “Playing croquet with seniors is bomb-diggity.”

Jiminy Wicket is looking to replicate this program across the country. San Diego is the next city that is embracing Dementia Friendly America and AARP’s Age Friendly Communities initiatives to reduce the stigma and isolation of aging and Alzheimer’s.

“Being a clinician and a scientist, I wanted to see the ‘evidence,’” said Kevin O’Neil, M.D., former chief medical officer for Brookdale Senior Living. “The smiles and the laughter of the young and old, the healthy and the physically and cognitively impaired, was enough proof for me.”

Research shows that smiling reduces adrenaline and cortisol levels, increasing endorphins and dopamine levels, and it reduces blood pressure, so founder Creasey created the metric s.p.h!TM (smiles per hour) to gauge the effectiveness of this program.

“The Jiminy Wicket Foundation could be a natural fit in every city and town across the country,” he said.

To learn more about how to volunteer, donate, engage a school, or explore corporate sponsorship, visit JiminyWicket.org or email, info@JiminyWicket.org.

_James Creasey is executive director of Jiminy Wicket

[Photo courtesy of James Creasey]

*Any information you provide to the host organization will be governed by its privacy policy. This is not an AARP event.