Feb. 12, 2007

Volunteering means recognizing individuality, Cokato woman says

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

Ruth Abrahamson of Cokato noticed an important truth in her more than 35 years volunteering: people are individuals.

“You can’t group them,” she said.

For the past 20 years she has volunteered at Cokato Manor. Everyday, something memorable happens, because so many of the individuals are “characters,” said Abrahamson, originally from the Lake Stella area.

Abrahamson calls herself a “utility volunteer.” She does a little bit of everything for the activities department, she said.

Abrahamson started volunteering at the nursing home in 1985, when her mother was a resident there.

“I couldn’t wait to get back,” Abrahamson said. “I made so many friends.”

Abrahamson volunteers Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. The activities vary broadly in the Senior Day program throughout the month.

On Tuesdays, for example, she helps get the residents down the halls to the activities room for a “reminiscing” program. A theme is selected, such as pizza or ethnic foods, flags, or outhouses. The theme triggers memories in the residents, and stimulates some lively conversations, she said.

Abrahamson then helps people get back to their rooms, sorts and distributes mail, and helps the activities director, Joy Marschel, get craft materials ready for later in the week.

Not all of the seniors are residents of Cokato Manor, though. When the van returns some of the seniors to Litchfield, it gives Abrahamson a ride back to her house on Pleasant Avenue in Cokato, where she lives with her son, Matthew.

On Thursdays, she brings residents to a mini-concert by the Jones Family, singing Gospel music. Abrahamson helps the residents with their coffee break, and then they have crafts. Recently they made penguins out of paint rollers, black felt and baby socks, she said.

Abrahamson said the residents make their crafts in small groups of three to six people at a time. Afterward, Abrahamson visits with residents one-on-one in their rooms until the end of the day, she added.

On Fridays, Abrahamson helps with Bingo, coffee time and the popcorn party. After the party, she pushes a cart containing bags of popcorn around the building for residents and staff members who couldn’t attend the party.

In addition to working with the other staff members, Marschel, Cathy Osdoba, Marilyn Denler and Carol Semke, Abrahamson enjoys working in the large, well-equipped activities room. Abrahamson said she remembers well when there was no separate room for activities, and volunteers, residents and staff members had limited space.

Abrahamson said she is nearly 80 years old, and never forced to work beyond her capability. Cokato Manor is well-staffed, she said.

Often four or five fourth graders also come to visit and play games with residents, Abrahamson said.

When Abrahamson and her husband, Harvey, first came to Cokato in 1951, she was a homemaker. They had five children.

In the late ‘60s, though, Abrahamson started volunteering in the Warner Home in Cokato. For the next 12 to 15 years she worked with adults who had been institutionalized, but now live in ordinary homes.

Then in 1976, she volunteered at the Cokato Museum. She created exhibits, led tours and programs, and indexed newspapers and research materials.

Most of her volunteering overlapped at the different locations, and her husband died in 1999. Abrahamson always stayed busy, though.

For those interested in volunteering at Cokato Manor, Abrahamson advises talking to the volunteer coordinator, Cathy Osdoba.

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