SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) – This week’s Jefferson Award winner is a South Bay teenager who uses music to bring cheer to some of the most vulnerable members of the community.
Music therapy is the key to 16-year-old Hasitha Nimmagadda’s volunteer service group Compassion for Seniors.
When Nimmagadda was seven years old, her music teacher brought her to nursing homes to perform, and she took note at the impact she could have.
“A good song just makes everyone cheerful and happy,” Nimmagadda told KPIX 5.
Nimmagadda, a junior at Lynbrook High School, started Compassion for Seniors in 2017. Her group performs music and uses art to bring cheer to older adults in memory or hospice care.
“Nursing homes, retirement homes, senior care centers, they get plenty of visitors but memory and hospice care don’t get as many,” Nimmagadda said.
Compassion for Seniors has spent 3,000 hours serving several hundred people in 10 South Bay nursing homes.
Volunteers, including 17-year-old Lynbrook High School student Aman Kumpawat perform music, read, and play trivia games.
“When I’m playing, I look up sometimes and somebody’s putting up an OK sign or they’re tapping their feet or nodding their head or letting out a small smile,” Kumpawat noted.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the group has suspended performances or switched to virtual events.
At VITAS Healthcare in Milpitas, volunteer coordinator Cynthia Carlson says the teenagers are a weekly highlight for terminally-ill patients who are isolated because of COVID visiting restrictions.
“Without visits, personal visits, they really look forward to it. They like the singalongs, they like to clap,” said Carlson.
Compassion for Seniors has also made more than 1,500 face masks to give away to caregivers and families of hospice patients.
And Nimmagadda has led a letter-writing campaign thanking more than 200 caregivers nationwide.
Compassion for Seniors is expanding into Florida, Texas and Maryland, where there are volunteers.
The group is seeking more volunteers. Nimmagadda says they need to be dedicated, empathetic and compassionate.
Carlson said those are words that describe the teenager herself.
“She’s very mature, very talented, and compassionate,” said Carlson.
For showing compassion for seniors, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Hasitha Nimmagadda.