South Charlotte

As far as friends go, this girl is golden

Waxhaw resident Bayley Ligon, 17, has always wanted to help others, but what started as a one-time gift has led to a year-and-a-half relationship serving the elderly at Golding Living Center off Providence Road near uptown Charlotte.

Around Easter of 2009, her freshman year at Charlotte Catholic High School, Ligon decided to start saving her money for the purpose of doing something meaningful for homeless families at Christmas.

The following December, during her sophomore year, she enlisted her mom, Janet Ligon, to help her find homeless families she could buy gifts for and maybe put in a hotel over the holiday.

But when they tried to find families, the logistics proved too difficult.

"Then my mom talked to the activities director at Golden Living Center, who said their angel tree still had 14 angels left on it, so I decided to use the money to buy the rest of those gifts," said Bayley Ligon.

On Christmas Day 2009, Ligon brought the 14 gifts to the senior living home, helped with the Christmas party and talked with the residents. The residents range in age from their 20s to their 90s, averaging in their 70s. Some are temporary residents, but most are long-term.

"It wasn't what I expected," Ligon said. "These people really didn't have a lot, and they were just so happy to have visitors."

When she returned to school, Ligon started a club called Golden Friends - consisting of her and four friends - to visit the residents on a weekly basis.

This year, Ligon, now a junior, has expanded the club to more than 40 members, who take turns visiting the home in groups of five once or twice a week.

"Just to see them smile is so great," Ligon said. "They tell stories about their lives and when they were young and their kids and grandkids."

The group not only visits with the residents - most of whom need round-the-clock care - but also plan parties, host bingo and help with craft projects.

On May 9, Ligon and two other club members, Annalise Burnett and Alyssa Theysohn, both 16, visited the residents to help with craft activities and listen to them talk about their lives.

While Ligon said she feels connected to the residents at the center, she has formed a special bond with Mildred Matthews, 89.

"She always asks the nurses if we can visit her when we come," Ligon said. "When we first met her, she liked to stay in her room a lot, and now we get her to come out and play bingo sometimes."

Matthews recently showed Ligon and other club members a cookbook one of her recipes was published in after she won the Pillsbury bakeoff in the early 1950s.

"She told us how she was really into cooking and how she won an award for it," said Ligon. "She's really proud of that book."

In addition to her work with Golden Friends, Ligon also runs track at Charlotte Catholic and works at the YMCA giving swimming lessons and lifeguarding.

"It's some late nights," she admitted, but said that, despite all her commitments, she doesn't neglect Golden Friends.

Even after she graduates, Ligon said, she feels confident Golden Friends will continue, with younger students taking the lead. Ligon hopes to attend East Carolina University in fall 2012 to major in geriatrics or physical therapy for the elderly.

"Golden Friends has been nothing but a blessing to us," said Judy Lane, the recreational service director at Golden Living for the last 13 years. "It's an answer to a prayer."