Jim Fennell's Just Checking In: These seniors may live in nursing homes, but they're still working to benefit others

JIM FENNELL November 24. 2012 10:41PM

Shirly Lampron wasn't ready to be put on the shelf to collect dust and be forgotten. He has too much life in him.

Same goes for Jean Heady, Martha Spragia, David Clark and many others living in nursing homes and assisted living facilities across the state. They still want to matter.

And they do.

Just ask the folks at the New Hampshire Food Bank who have received more than $120,000 in donations in the past five years from Seniors Aid New Hampshire, a group of residents living in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

"It's makes me feel happy and useful," said Heady, 82, who is a resident at Genesis Pleasant View in Concord.

Barbara Platts-Comeau is the recreation director at Genesis Pleasant View. She was holding a regular council meeting with residents about six years ago when the idea of helping out the food bank was brought up by one of the residents. That was the start of Seniors Aid New Hampshire.

Since then, the concept of a community activist group has spread to include residents at 53 facilities around state. The New Hampshire Health Care Association helps coordinate the group's efforts - and it's been quite an effort.

In addition to raising money for the food bank, the group has started a scholarship fund for people in the long-term health care field looking to further their education and has become politically active in matters that affect its members, by writing and meeting with elected officials.

The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) recognized the work of Seniors Aid New Hampshire by naming it the group volunteer of the year at its recent national convention.

The food bank is still SANH's pet project. Running everything from bake sales to craft fairs to raffles and auctions, each facility has rallied around the cause of fighting hunger.

Clark, a resident at the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton, is a disabled veteran of the Army and Navy who was trying to live independently after suffering a stroke. He said he couldn't afford much, so he would eat one meal delivered to him from Meals on Wheels and "wait until the next day to eat again."

Life is better now for Clark, 67, who has been in the Veterans Home for almost seven years, but he doesn't forget that feeling of hunger. That's why he's part of Seniors Aid New Hampshire.

"I lived it, and I said maybe I can do something," Clark said. "We can't afford to have anyone go hungry."

Rarely does anyone choose to go into a nursing home or skilled care facility, but sometimes there is no option. John Poirier, executive director of the NHHCA, said 35 percent of the people sent from a hospital to a nursing home or skilled care facility never go back home.

If you've had a mother or father or other loved one go into such a facility, you know there's no party to celebrate the occasion. You hope they can deal with the loss of their home and the loss of their independence. You hope they don't lose their sense of self-worth.

In that way, Seniors Aid New Hampshire has done as much good for its members as it has for the people it assists. It has helped give its members a renewed sense of value.

"We've still got some brains left, and we can use them," said Lampron, 76, and also a resident at Genesis Pleasant View.

Spragia, a resident at Genesis Keene with MS, said many of the residents struggle with some form of dementia, but they still want to help. She calls it "golden hearts and golden minds."

"We can do something on the outside even though we're in here," Spragia said. "It's worthwhile."

Poirier said the concept is being studied by other state organizations similar to the NHHCA. In retrospect, he said, it's surprising a group like Seniors Aid New Hampshire didn't come along sooner.

"The biggest thing they wanted was to still be actively involved," Poirier said of the group's members. "They feel like they should be giving back to someone instead of taking."

We all should feel that way.

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Jim Fennell may be reached at jfennell@unionleader.com.

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