Salvation Army's League of Mercy visits nursing homes

October 28, 2004|EMILY TOADVINE

Billie Scott pushes a prize cart from table to table in the dining room at Danville Centre for Health and Rehabilitation. She stays busy passing out body lotion and shampoo, even snack crackers, as residents fill their bingo cards.

The bingo game and singing of gospel songs that follow are part of the weekly visits to the nursing home by the Salvation Army's League of Mercy. After the game, most of the 19 residents who made it to the dining room by wheelchair or walkers stayed to hear the women with the league add cheer to a gray day by singing songs such as "I'll Fly Away."

One resident, Dewan Smith, says she likes playing bingo.

"I'm bored in the room, and I've got something to do," says Smith, who had chosen shampoo and body wash as prizes for her bingo wins. Smith says she has lived at the nursing home for a year and 10 months.


Another resident, Wanda Bennett, planned to take a teddy bear and angel she won and place them on a special shelf in her room.

Cathy Sickles, who acts as the league's secretary, says a league member aids the nursing home residents during the games.

"A lot of them will need help with some of the numbers," she says, noting that they may have problems seeing or hearing.

Despite these handicaps, when it's time to sing, Sickles says the old hymns strike a chord with the residents.

"Some of them who don't react to anything else will react to that. It will spark a memory," she says.

The organization, which began when the Salvation Army came to Danville 55 years ago, has about 18 participants.

"Where it's gotten to now, it's the biggest it's ever been," says Sickles.

Although they make a weekly trip to the Danville nursing home, the group tries to visit the ones in Lincoln, Casey, Mercer and Garrard counties at least once a month. "We go to the other nursing homes during the week, so we go two or three times," says Sickles.

The pace really steps up as the holidays approach, because the league brings gifts at Easter and Christmas.

"We'll distribute gifts to all the residents at all the nursing homes at Christmas," says Salvation Army Capt. Zach Bell, noting that about 600 gifts have been ordered.

Impressive statistics

The group's annual statistics are impressive. They logged 1,776 volunteer hours, distributed 5,334 gifts and made 376 home visits. About 2,061 individuals were visited. About 1,261 people attended the meetings.

Not all visits occur at the nursing homes. Sickles' mother, Eleanor Sickles, visits older residents who are her neighbors at Latimer Homes. Another league member, Sarah Russell, who is in a wheelchair, goes to the nursing homes, but also finds ways to reach out to the elderly.

"Sarah does a lot of calling," Cathy Sickles says.

Russell finds the nursing home visits uplifting.

"I like seeing the smiles on their faces and having visits."

About four to eight people make the weekly jaunt to the Third Street nursing home. Some of the other regulars are Terry Russell, who acts as van driver for the group, Anna Margaret Fish and Marsha Yocum, who calls out the bingo numbers.

In addition to singing and playing games, the group leaves the Salvation Army's magazine, "The War Cry" at the nursing homes.

Cathy Sickles says the residents look forward to the hour-long visit.

"The ones that play, really expect you to be there to play."

Terry Russell, who sometimes can't come because she baby-sits her 2-year-old grandson, Trevor Ramsay, says she gets a lot of questions if she misses a visit. "When I'm not there, they ask where I have been," says Russell, who often brings her grandson.

Capt. Bell vouches for the league's important role.

"When the nursing home knows they're not going to be there, it really is a downer."

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