The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

April 25, 2013

Ashtabula County honors nursing home volunteers

KINGSVILLE TOWNSHIP — For Hazel Craig, the oldest of 10 children born to a New York dairy farming couple, helping others is a way of life.

Decades after she helped her father make hay and fed helpless farm animals, Craig brings in a harvest at the Ashtabula County Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

Her harvest is one of gratitude and life enrichment as she assists the residents with everything from bingo to reading. Recently, a female resident asked Craig to read to her a letter written to her from a high school sweetheart the resident had not heard from in 70 years. Craig’s next job will be to write down the woman’s response and mail it.

“Perhaps they will get married,” Craig mused.

Every day at the nursing home, volunteers like Craig come alongside residents and share their burdens. On Wednesday, nursing staff and county commissioners thanked the volunteers for their work with a luncheon and prizes.

“The time you share with them means the world to them,” MaryLou Clatterbuck, nursing home administrator, told the group. “I want to thank you sincerely for all you give us and all you do.”

“People who are in difficult situations know that somebody does care,” Craig told the group of fellow volunteers.

The county-owned nursing home has more than 50 such volunteers, said Trisha Lute, who heads up the program. She said some of their volunteers have been with them for 25 to 35 years.

Lute said one couple who volunteers at the home assists with bingo twice a week, visits with residents and makes holiday favors for the residents. The lady volunteer scours garage sales and thrift shops for little gifts that fit the interests of the residents that she gets to know.

“They spend time with the residents that the staff cannot spend and they listen to their stories,” Lute said of the volunteers in general.

As Craig pointed out about herself, she and many of the volunteers are older than the residents they serve. Don Moore, 84, started volunteering after his sister became a resident. Moore visited her every day and decided he’d do some additional good by volunteering. Although his sister has passed away, Moore still comes to the home to assist with bingo, the runaway favorite activity among the residents, says Dennis Tibbens, president of the residents council.

Tibbens said there are five to six bingo sessions at the home every week. Some are sponsored by the home itself, others are run by civic or church groups — Veterans of Foreign Wars, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church and Take Off Pounds Sensibly (TOPS) — who supply the personnel and prizes.

He feels that there is a need for more volunteers with therapy animals. Although there are people who bring their dogs to visit residents at the home, Tibbens would like to see people bring in cats and other critters that have received therapy training.

“I was at a nursing home where a person on staff had a pet raccoon, she had it trained to be a therapy animal,” he said.

Tibbens said there is a need for volunteers who are willing to play games of checkers, cards or chess with residents. He said there also is a need for volunteers who serve year-around; interest seems to lag in the months following Christmas and during the summer.

His step-mother, Michele Tibbens, has been volunteering for two years. Twice a month, she leads a Bible study that draws 10 to 18 residents.

Craig and her husband Carl are so involved in their volunteer work at the home, they sold their house in Roaming Shores 10 years ago and moved close to the nursing home so it would be more convenient. She said the work gives her plenty of exercise as she goes to the far-flung rooms of residents and wheels them to the dining room for bingo.

Craig compared working with the elderly to working with children. Although at opposite ends of the age spectrum, both groups can be interesting, unpredictable and humorous.

“And they all need love and attention,” she said.

Lute said there are many ways a volunteer can help at the nursing home, a microcosm of more than 100 residents.

“If there is an interest that someone has, we will find a place to put them,” Lute said.

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