Jeremy Looper, center, and Camron Ludgate, right, shake hands with the residents at Sandrock Ridge Care & Rehab during a performance Tuesday afternoon by the Sunrise Singers. The Sunrise Singers are a group of fourth- and fifth-graders from Sunset Elementary School.

Photo by Shawn McHugh

Jeremy Looper, center, and Camron Ludgate, right, shake hands with the residents at Sandrock Ridge Care & Rehab during a performance Tuesday afternoon by the Sunrise Singers. The Sunrise Singers are a group of fourth- and fifth-graders from Sunset Elementary School.

Sunrise singers bring smiles to residents at Sandrock Ridge

Fourth- and fifth-graders spread holiday cheer

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Denise Whitney, a Sunset Elementary School music instructor, led the Sunrise Singers as they performed Christmas-themed songs Tuesday for residents at Sandrock Ridge Care & Rehab. Some of the residents clapped their hands and sang along to the music.

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Savannah Ahlmer, 10, wishes happy holidays to Marianne Wallace, 97, after a performance by the Sunrise Singers for the residents at Sandrock Ridge Care & Rehab. Students from Sunset Elementary School performed Christmas songs and mingled with the patients Tuesday.

— There are times Betty Rice can be as sad as anyone else.

She’s been in a wheelchair and within the walls of Sandrock Ridge Care & Rehab for four years with an uncontrollable form of diabetes.

At 59, she probably will remain at the facility for the rest of her life.

But Tuesday was one of the days she looks forward to all year.

As 25 Sunset Elementary School students, each dressed in bright tie-dyed T-shirts, launched into “Jingle Bells,” Rice couldn’t contain her smile.

She clapped and mouthed the words along with the children as they sang a medley of Christmas carols to Rice and other Sandrock Ridge residents.

“I’d give anything if we could just give them back a quarter of what they give to us,” she said.

“They are just such a joy. Such happiness.”

For about five years, the Sunrise Singers, made up of fourth- and fifth-graders from Sunset, have made trips around town to brighten the holiday season for the Craig community.

Early on Tuesday, they traveled to the Moffat County School Administration Building to sing to a preschool class before heading to Sandrock Ridge after school.

Mary Gillingham, activities director at the care facility, said the annual performance is invaluable to the residents’ quality of life.

Gillingham said she saw one of her patients, a 101-year-old, tapping her hand on the table next to her to the beat of “Jolly Old St. Nick.”

“It’s good for the kids and good for the residents,” Gillingham said. “It’s a good exchange between generations.”

She said most of her residents love children and that the opportunity to have them visit, like they do every Halloween and Christmas, brightens their holidays.

For Rice, the joy of the experience was written on her face when the students stepped off the risers and walked through the crowd to wish the residents Merry Christmas and shake their hands.

As one boy approached her, Rice leaned forward and clasped his hand with both of hers.

“You just sang so beautifully,” she told him. “And you put in so much work.”

The boy smiled at her and wished her a Merry Christmas.

“Merry Chris­tmas,” she replied, still grinning.

She said after four years at Sandrock Ridge, she sometimes misses being out in public. She misses seeing children of the community out in their element.

When the children travel to her, it warms her heart, she said.

“It reminds us what Christmas is about,” she said. “It’s about the youth.”

One of her sons is in the U.S. Army and has been stationed in Iraq. She hopes he will one day return to share another Christmas with the rest of the family and bring his 12-year-old daughter along with him.

Until then, the bright faces of the Sunrise Singers, swaying, clapping and shaking sleigh bells along with classic carols, will be enough.

“It reminds you that it’s a joy to be alive,” she said. “I’m just so glad to be here.”

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