THE LAST TIME Carmela DiFrancesco danced was around 1960, about the time Chubby Checker invented the Twist. Not that Carmela ever did the Twist.
The waltz was her dance. She and her husband Mario used to go waltzing when they lived in Florida. But then Mario took ill, and the DiFrancescos moved to Utah. Mario died not long after. Carmela hasn't danced since.Until Saturday.
"It's the most fun I've ever had," beamed Carmela, 91, as she stepped off the dance floor. She had just done the waltz, or something kind of like it, with University of Utah sophomore Donald Dunn.
The occasion was the Senior Spring Fling, a sort of seniors' prom hosted by the Mayor's Youth Volunteer Council, the University of Utah's Lowell Bennion Community Service Center and Hardee's.
"The kids got just as much out of it as the seniors," noted Judy Rausch, volunteer coordinator at East High School, who watched as students like David Landon of West High School, Jeni Fowler of Highland and Sarah Larrabee of Judge Memorial swayed back and forth with their senior partners to Glenn Miller tunes.
The senior citizens came from the Central City Senior Program, the Sunday Anderson Senior Center and Chateau Brickyard. They were bused to the U.'s Union Building courtesy of Lewis Brothers Stages. The sophomores, juniors and other seniors came from Salt Lake high schools and the University of Utah.
The Senior Spring Fling was the third project of the year sponsored by the Youth Volunteer Council and the Bennion Center. Like the groups' first two efforts - an Adopt-a-Block cleanup program and a letter-writing and blood donor campaign for soldiers in Operation Desert Storm - the Fling proved again that more students are learning to step outside the perimeters of their own lives.
Area hospitals, for example, report an increase in the number of students applying to be junior volunteers - although the reality may be that many of those students may just be doing community service to make up "unsatisfactory" high school citizenship grades so they can graduate.
But the reality is also that in somecases those students actually discover they feel good when they help someone else.
The aim of both the Youth Volunteer Council and the Bennion Center is to launch a lifetime commitment to voluntarism, according to Dunn.
There's been another unexpected side benefit, as well, says Tamara Wharton, volunteer coordinator for Salt Lake City. "More and more we're receiving calls from (citizen) groups who have read about Adopt-a-Block and want to do something in the community."
Last Saturday, a group of youths and parents from the LDS East Millcreek North Stake adopted a block in Salt Lake's Central City. For some of the kids it was their first exposure to inner-city problems.
"We tried to prevent the kids from making judgments," says Wharton. Central City resident Mary Allen visited with the students in advance to talk about why low incomes, aging joints and life's injustices sometimes make simple chores seem too overwhelming.
As Tamara Wharton puts it, "There's a story behind every door."
One of those doors belongs to Ruth Evans, an elderly woman who recently lost part of a leg due to complications of diabetes. Since then, the complication of Evans' life has been the tiny step outside her front door. She hasn't been able to get her wheelchair out to her front porch so she can chat with her neighbors as they walk by.
By Saturday afternoon, however, volunteers from East Millcreek had built her a ramp. Others, armed with paint scrapers, lawn mowers and pruning shears, tackled peeling paint and overgrown lawns at 31 other homes.
In the process they got thank-yous from residents like the woman who admitted that she'd been wanting to fix her up her lawn for years but felt too defeated to start.
The city, through its Operation Paintbrush, donated paint and other supplies to Saturday's cleanup effort. Dan's Food donated garbage bags, Bland Landfill donated landfill space and Laidlaw Waste Management loaned the volunteers a 22-foot dumpster.
"It was fun," said Olympus High senior Chantell Kirby after the five-hour cleanup campaign was over. It got her out of yard work at home, she said, but more importantly "I would hope it stated that somebody cares."