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Flowery Branch girl transforms herself to change the lives of elderly residents

POSTED: May 22, 2012 11:44 a.m.
/For The Times

Anna Leigh Stewart, dressed as Cinderella, greets residents at a nursing home. For the last 10 years, the 16-year-old Hall County resident has been bringing smiles to the faces of seniors in Carrollton.

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Even though she sometimes dons a "Cinderella" costume, some nursing home residents see Anna Leigh Stewart as a fairy godmother.

For the last 10 years, the 16-year-old Hall County resident has been bringing smiles to the faces of seniors in Carrollton — her grandmother’s hometown.

"I just love visiting with them," said Anna, a rising junior at Flowery Branch High School.

"I love seeing their faces and making them happy."

After a decade of visiting Pine Knoll Nursing Home, Anna has become a like a surrogate granddaughter for many of the residents.

When she learned that the blood relatives of her "grannies and grandpas" weren’t being so nice, Anna Leigh launched her fundraising crusade, "Cans for Anna’s Grannies."

She collects and turns in empty cans for cash, which she delivers to the nursing home.

"Some of the grannies and grandpas don’t have enough money to do things like get their hair done," Anna said.

"I want to give them the money to provide for their personal needs or for fun outings.

"Just little things that the nursing home doesn’t provide."

This mission was born out of Anna’s desire to create a happier ending to a sad story she heard about a year ago.

"The reason this all started was because (Anna) found out about a little lady who was put into the nursing home, her family sold her land and kept all of the money," said Becky Stewart, Anna’s mom.

"Then they called the nursing home and said they couldn’t afford to get her hair done and she couldn’t go on any more outings. It killed Anna when she found out.

"Last month, she gave the nursing home a check for $290 and that little lady gets to have her hair done."

To raise those funds, Anna collected cans and sold crafts.

"I had scoliosis and had spinal surgery two years ago. My grandmother had a rice bag that you warm up in the microwave and that really helped me after my surgery, so I decided to make some to sell," Anna said.

"I’ve been selling them at the yard sale my grandmother has every month."

For Easter, Anna sold little plastic cups that she’d decorated to resemble bunnies and filled them with candy.

"We’re always thinking of ideas to raise money," Becky Stewart said.

"She’s already saved $80 to take in June."

Since it takes a large supply of empty cans to generate cash, Anna is planning to write to different businesses to see if they would consider collecting cans on her behalf.

"Even just one day would help," she said.

Anna’s passion for helping elderly nursing home residents, which became the basis for her issues platform in the pageantry circuit, began with her own grandmother.

"She kind of followed in the footsteps of grandma (Sarah McGaha of Braselton)," said Becky Stewart.

"(Mom) started painting their nails and (Anna) started going and helping and playing games with the residents."She’s loved visiting ever since."

Anna visits with the residents at least once a month. She sings, dances and finds other ways to entertain.

For Christmas she dressed up as an elf, while her mom got in on the act as Mrs. Claus. However, "Cinderella" is the residents’ favorite character.

In addition to her usual room visits, Anna also passes out necklaces with glass slipper charms when she assumes the princess’ persona.

"We take pictures of her and then she autographs them and takes them to the (residents)," Becky Stewart said.

"They love it. Any little thing out of their ordinary day brings them joy.

"They love it so much because the movie came out when they were young, so they just light up when she comes in as ‘Cinderella.’"



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