When the calendar said CANCELLED, George stepped in.
George, a 4-foot stuffed gorilla on “staff” at Living Branches (a Conference Related Ministry, CRM, retirement community in southeastern PA), stepped up when life shut down. Before the pandemic, George’s role was to bring a smile to those whom he met in person. But now, George was on a mission.
In March, retirement communities responded to Governor Wolf’s “stay at home” directive. Most of the daily activities that provided connections and community for residents were suddenly cancelled.
When foot traffic and travel was cancelled, “Out and About with George” served to bring “community” back to the residents by bringing them along for the virtual journey through videos and photos that were shown on the in-house TV channel. George enlisted others, including CEO Ed Brubaker, to share the story, pictures, humor, and conversation of their travels.
Among George’s adventures was a 93-mile bike ride with Brubaker, a day at the beach, roasting marshmallows over a campfire, and riding a John Deere tractor. A highlight was George’s participation at the graduation of Nursing Assistants.
George was not alone sharing joy during challenging times. Volunteers at Frederick Living doubled their efforts as well. Supplies were provided to residents to continue individual participation in the Mennonite Resource Center (MRC) quilting project. Volunteers ensure care and food for the pair of swans that grace the pond at Frederick Living. Other volunteers restack library bookshelves. Some work to ensure that worship is broadcasted live to residents.
Because of the efforts of those who have stepped up, the quality of life is most certainly not cancelled. Yet, the pandemic still has been difficult for residents. “It has been sooo long. We want to gather, visit, eat, and worship together,” a resident shares. “We miss hugs, family dinners, and singing.”
Video visits and the chat room bring family and friends together. Worship services, exercise classes, and movies through in-house channels fill those cancelled spots. “We have found that innovation, resilience, patience, and prayer keep our Life Communities together,” says CEO John Hendrickson of Frederick Living.
CEOs continue to emphasize how staff team members are showing genuine love and care for the residents during this time. Wearing PPE, staff members sweat as they protect our residents and have volunteered for the little extras that mean a lot. They continue to provide care in spite of anxiety surrounding their health.
And, although the PA Department of Heath has eased visiting regulations, how those regulations will be implemented will be balanced with risk and safety. Finding the appropriate response is a daily challenge.
Through it all, the universal longing for personal touch and connections is never cancelled. “The wait [to hug my mother again] was hard, but we are very thankful that our community follows science and procedures that keeps my mom and other residents safe,” says Sharon Metzler-Ruth, whose mother is a resident at Souderton Mennonite Homes. “There is nothing more important than that.”
“This is a challenging, frustrating, and maddening time,” says Ed Brubaker, CEO of Living Branches. “But [it is] also inspiring as I have watched folks ‘step up’ and do their work in amazing ways.”
We are community. We are hands and feet serving and creating a helpful, just, and Spirit-filled community. Please pray for all of our Conference Related Ministries in this unprecedented year, as we live our faith together.