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Volunteering at nursing homes is rewarding for all involved

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

Volunteering at a nursing home has many advantages, not only for the residents, but for the home and the volunteers themselves. The residents receive extra one-on-one attention as volunteers visit with them and do different activities. The home benefits also by gaining what may seem like an extra staff member, and the volunteer is rewarded by the smiles on their new found friend’s faces.

Michelle Haefner, administrator for Cokato Manor, says volunteers tend to become an extended family to the residents. “They look forward to them coming to visit,” she said.

In most nursing homes, including Cokato Manor and the Dassel Lakeside Community Home, the volunteer coordinators will try to pair up a volunteer with a resident who shares similar interests or hobbies. “We try individualizing activities for our residents,” Haefner said.

Volunteers can help with a wide array of activities including Bingo, crafts, meals, and musical performances. The Jones Family, consisting of Bonnie, Al, Gary and Daniel, play gospel music in the Cokato Nursing Home Chapel every Thursday, and at Dassel Lakeside once a month.

“At first, it was something to get me out of the house after I retired; now, it has grown into such a blessing,” said Bonnie Jones, who plays the piano for the group.

Joy Marschel, activities director at Cokato Manor, says it’s the simple things that mean so much to the residents. This can be as easy as sitting and visiting with a resident or taking them on a wheelchair ride through the garden.

Dassel Lakeside currently has 70 volunteers, but is always looking for more to help in their activities department doing miscellaneous duties like watering the plants, feeding the birds, and delivering mail.

Weekends tend to get long for the residents, according to Lynette Sauer, assistant activities director at Lakeside.

Cokato Manor even has employees who come and volunteer on their days off. “They love it that much,” Marschel said.

Cokato Manor starts its volunteers out at a young age with the Adopt a Grandparent program. Every year, Cokato Elementary fourth graders spend a portion of a semester in the Adopt a Grandparent program. Once a week, classes come over to the Manor, visit with the residents, and do different activities, like Bingo.

“It instills in youth a care-giving personality,” Marschel said, whose daughter spends much of her summer days at the Manor because “it’s fun.”

Dave Backes of Dassel used to own a Dassel bakery. It wasn’t long after he sold out that he began baking donuts and muffins on Mondays for the nursing home residents. “During the summer, I would have the kids working for me, and in the winter, the grandmas. Soon, my workers were here (Dassel Lakeside),” Backes said.

John McGinty of Dassel helps out on Muffin Mondays as well. He began volunteering at the home by “pushing ladies around,” he said. It keeps him busy and he enjoys helping people out, he said.

Some volunteers bring in their dogs for dog therapy. Daycare kids will walk over to Dassel Lakeside and color, sing, and visit with the residents. “It reminds them of their own grandchildren. They don’t get to see kids very often,” Sauer said.

Jan Werner of Darwin retired from Dassel Lakeside and now, in her free time, she volunteers there. “I guess I just can’t stay away,” Werner said.

Nursing homes are filled with stories, she said. Many of the residents are veterans, former teachers, homemakers, and social workers. “You learn so much from them. You can hear about all the things they’ve done,” Werner said.

Werner visits one resident in particular, Sally Nelson. “She told me just the other day, ‘You made my day,’ and I said to her, ‘No Sally, you made my day,’” Werner said.

When she isn’t visiting one-on-one with the residents, Werner’s doing whatever it is they tell her to do including helping with fundraisers, activities, and different community events.

Werner is also a part of the Lakeside Enhancement Group (LEG), an organization dedicated to support the mission of the Dassel Lakeside Home.

LEG is a group of volunteers with a mission to support the residents and the work of the staff through fundraising, assisting, communicating, and soliciting others to do the same.

Throughout the year, they have three major fundraising events including a stand at Dassel’s Red Rooster Days, a November food sale at the DC Craft Fair, and a spring rummage sale. The group is currently trying to raise money to purchase a big screen TV for the resident lounge area, according to Werner.

LEG, as well as most nursing homes, is always in need of volunteers and monetary support.

“In the current economy, where funding is inadequate, volunteers provide an enriched living environment that otherwise wouldn’t be possible,” said Bill Ward, administrator for Dassel Lakeside.