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 Nursing Home Residents Experience Joy In Giving


Looking around today’s nursing homes it’s hard to imagine that residents could once again contribute to their communities. Residents are in nursing facilities because they meet the criteria for skilled care, which means they have real and significant physical and/or cognitive declines. 

Residents need assistance, and that is why nursing facilities exist. After all, they are living out their golden years, and they deserve service with a smile from the dedicated staff who surround them.  But what if receiving wonderful, compassionate care wasn’t enough? What if residents in nursing homes decided they weren’t done? The journey at Mission View Health Center started with an attempt to answer this question.

In response, the residents started their own nonprofit business, “Helping Hands Handmade Soap,” to buy the food they serve at the homeless shelter every month. The process of making soap, wrapping the soap, selling the soap at the local farmer’s market, and preparing the food and serving the food at the homeless shelter involved a dedicated group of about eight to ten residents.

These residents were generally higher functioning (although still 90+ years old in wheelchairs) and were willing and happy to participate in every phase of the program. But what about other residents who had a heart to serve, but were more limited by dementia, strokes, contractures, or even blindness—could they serve in a real and meaningful way?

The staff at Mission View decided they would not allow any barriers to stand in their way. If the resident had a desire to serve, they would find an opportunity.  PHOTO 4 feature MIission View.jpg

One obvious example is residents with dementia—how in the world can they serve their community? Anyone working in a nursing facility knows that most residents with dementia are always happy to help.

At Mission View, we had been giving residents napkins to fold, and honestly taking them out of the room when they were done, unfolding them and giving them the “new” batch to fold. This was good, but not truly serving their community. 

One day, Jean, who has a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, rolled over to where the other residents were water coloring the labels for the soap and asked if she could help. She painted a spectacular label.

I said, “Jean, those are unbelievably beautiful. Hold them up so I can get a picture. Those labels are going to help feed the homeless in our community. Thank you so much.” 

To which, she responded, “You are kidding me, me feed the homeless!”

Five minutes later Jean was rolling down the hall, and although she didn’t remember anything about the labels or the homeless shelter, when I asked how she was doing she responded, “We are really doing it. We are really doing it, aren’t we?”

“Yes we are,” I told her.

In the end it really isn’t about the memory, it is about that feeling in her heart that she did something important, valuable, and meaningful. 
PHOTO 6 Feature Mission View.jpg
And, she actually did—many bars of soap have been sold because of her beautiful wrappers, and hundreds of homeless men, women, and children have received a nourishing meal.

Today, residents who rarely get out of bed are Caring Callers (calling and checking in on homebound people in their community). And residents, despite having severe contractures, are welcoming families at the homeless shelter.

In addition, a resident who had a cerebrovascular accident and left-sided paralysis is teaching a Spanish class, and residents with quadriplegia are certified hospice volunteers.

If there is a heart to serve, Mission View staff are committed to finding an opportunity.

For photos and more about Mission View’s mission to feed the homeless through proceeds from its handmade soap, read Provider’s October issue, out later this month.

To see a documentary on the amazing work that Mission View is doing and its impact on the residents, go to YouTube at:  

Matthew Lysobey is administrator with Compass Health, San Luis Obispo, Calif. He can be reached at:   

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