Opportunties plentiful to volunteer at nursing homes

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
The care homes in the area were abuzz with holiday spirit and volunteers spreading cheer during the past Christmas season.

But with the dawn of the new year, it’s important to continue to visit the elderly and volunteer-to help keep everyone’s spirits up during the long winter months ahead.

“January and February are very slow months,” said Lisa Donahue, activities director at Hillsboro Community Medical Center Long Term Care Unit.

“That’s when depression hits in the nursing home, just like it does for other people. So that’s a very good time for people to come in and volunteer.”

Volunteering at care homes can be a two-way street, according to Peggy Brandt, director of activities at Parkside Homes Inc. in Hillsboro. Not only can volunteers bring sunshine into the lives of the elderly, but the elderly in turn can give back to the volunteers.

“It’s very important for our residents to have a place to give to feel their life has meaning and their days have substance,” Brandt said.

“The elderly need to feel they have a place, a usefulness and a purpose. We have some people with fantastic stories, and the volunteers can learn about history first hand.”

About 41 people currently reside at the HCMC LTCU, and they count on Donahue to provide activities to fill their days with a positive quality of life.

Although she can count on staff to pitch in when needed, Donahue said she always welcomes volunteers any time of the year.

“I would love to have more volunteers,” she said.

“I will never turn down a volunteer. This subject has been one of my soap-box issues. There’s always something somebody can do.”

Donahue keeps a monthly schedule of regular activities, such as exercises in the morning and bingo in the afternoons.

“Bingo and baking are popular,” she said. “Any kinds of games, the residents at this facility really enjoy games. We play some games like ring toss. It’s like a bean-bag toss where they try to get points.”

Regular volunteers include Donahue’s mother, who comes in twice a month for a sing-a-long; one gentleman, who leads a Sunday school class and another, who offers a weekly Bible class; a middle-school student, who comes in once a month to visit; the Gospel Messengers, who sing once a month; a staff member and family, who bring in animals to interact with the residents; and a local 4-H group that shares projects.

Two home-school families also volunteer on a regular basis.

“The home-school families rotate weeks so one of the two is here once a week,” Donahue said.

“They come in with the kids and play dominoes with the residents on Tuesday mornings. And on special occasions, like Christmas, they put on little programs.”

Volunteering at the care home has also been a means of fulfilling community-service requirements.

“At the high school, a program is set up so if (the students) have in-school suspension, they can also do community service instead of sitting in a room studying,” Donahue said. “That’s been real positive.”

The Hillsboro High School FCCLA group has volunteered, such as helping with a birthday party in the fall. And local church youth groups schedule times to visit, sing or play games with the residents.

Aside from regularly scheduled activities and volunteers, Donahue said she welcomes volunteers of any ages to come in throughout the day or into the evening.

“Maybe it’s just visiting with people or having one-on-one activities with people,” she said.

“With those people who don’t come out of their rooms, a volunteer could go in and play cards with them, do a craft with them, read them a book, help them with their mail, or do their nails. It can be simple things like that. Or, if somebody has a special talent they want to share, we can line that up, too.”

Prior to volunteering, a short orientation includes a brief tour of the facility and signing a privacy statement.

“The privacy statement is just saying they won’t share in the community any private issues they hear in the building,” Donahue said.

Although she follows a monthly calendar of activities, Donahue said flexibility is important.

“So if a group wants to come in and sing-unless I had something I couldn’t cancel, like going to the Senior Center-we could probably move and do that another time so the group could come. We’re pretty flexible with that.”

Agreeing with Brandt, Donahue said the important aspect of volunteering is participants receive more than they give.

“When you go to volunteer, you know you will be giving of your time and your resources,” she said.

“But once you start giving, you realize how much you are getting back-the love, appreciation, caring and friendship. So often, you leave feeling better than (when) you came. It is a wonderful feeling to be needed and appreciated.”

Brandt currently works with about 60 residents at Parkside Homes.

“I don’t have a staff-I’m it,” she said.

“But Vida Bartel, the social services director, helps me quite a bit. And we have volunteers that come in and add things to our program. We depend mostly on our volunteers.”

Volunteers on a regular basis include pastors offering Bible studies and church services, youth from the local middle and high school putting on programs, and an organist coming in once a week to play music in the afternoon.

“We have people who come in and call bingo,” Brandt said.

“But we could also use somebody who would like to come in and play bingo-sit with people that can’t play on their own but enjoy being there.

“And we would like to have some people come in and share their hobbies with us, even if it’s on a one-time basis. Just call up and say, ‘Hey, I have a collection of something or other that I’d like to show you.’ And we would just love that.”

About three or four people and one to two groups volunteer on a weekly basis at Parkside Homes. The ages of volunteers range from youth to senior citizens.

“It’s pretty evenly spaced-from teenagers to older adults,” Brandt said. “We have some 80-year-olds who come and volunteer here. It’s a good thing for them, too. It gives them purpose in their life and some way to get out.”

The ability to relate to an elderly person is not age related, Brandt said.

“It just depends. It’s both ways. We have some adults that relate real well, and some kids relate real well. They need to know the elderly are here. And yes, they have limits but not as many as you might think.”

In addition to keeping a monthly schedule of activities, Brandt keeps an ongoing list of volunteer names and groups available.

“I keep a running list from year to year, so I can look back and see what we’ve had and ask them if they’d be interested in coming in again,” she said.

One consistent volunteer group is from the local college.

“We have a group from Tabor College that adopts grandparents,” Brandt said.”They volunteer to take a resident and visit them. There’s been a lot going on with that. There’s an exchange of information and wisdom there.”

Brandt offers a short orientation for all volunteers, and said the amount of notice needed for volunteering depends on the activity.

When the final pages of the life of a resident are written, a volunteer program is in place to help them as they begin their next journey.

“We have a volunteer program we run called ‘From the Heart,’ to sit with residents experiencing some of their last days,” Brandt said.

Designed to provide company and comfort for residents and families who can’t be available on a 24-hour basis, the program counts on volunteers from the staff and community.

“It’s just someone there to hold your hand, and we have books and recordings,” Brandt said. “It’s very rewarding to sit next to someone and share with them as they are anticipating leaving us.”

Those interested in volunteering at the local care homes can take comfort in knowing they made a day brighter and in turn received a gift from the elderly.

For more information or to volunteer, call Donahue at 947-1486 and Brandt at 947-2301.

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