Library Volunteers Bring New Vistas To Nursing Homes

October 09, 1991|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Staff writer

For nursing home residents who cannot get to the library, Library Link volunteers bring the world within their reach.

"Our eyes may become dim and our muscles may become weak, but we can soar through space to places we've never visited with books," said County Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy at the program's 20th birthday celebration last month.

Since 1971, Library Link has provided books and games to nursing home residents. Currently, 15 volunteers visit 102 residents in sevencounty nursing homes once every other week.

The library materials, primarily large print books and books on tape, also are circulated through Meals on Wheels and at the South Carroll Adult Day Care Center.

"It's real hard to believe that 20 years have gone by," said Martha M. Makosky, director of the Carroll County Public Library. "Justas I have memories of my child, I have a few built up about this program."

The idea for the service was sparked when an elderly patronwrote to the library requesting a bookmobile stop at her nursing home. Having been an avid reader all her life, she said she was unable to get to the library and missed being able to select her books.

"Iremember talking to Eleanor (Fique) in the basement of the old DavisLibrary," said Makosky. "I said, 'We don't have any money to do this, but do you think we could get volunteers?' "

Fique, then the Westminster children's librarian, knew she could. She organized 16 volunteers to visit the six nursing homes in the county every other week. In teams of two, they brought books, games and conversation to nursing home residents.

"I think we were actually able to turn some lives around," said Fique, a Westminster resident. "Some of the residentshad regressed into a shell because of low self-esteem, physical handicaps, or they were depressed because of a loss of family.

"With the volunteers being persistently friendly, the residents eventually became outgoing and friendly."

Makosky tells of a volunteer who continued to visit a resident who refused to speak or even look away from the wall. Eventually, the resident turned, smiled and began to interact with the volunteer.

Sometimes volunteers must be even more patient.

Phyllis Mowbray of Silver Run remembers a woman who said she wasn't interested in the books or games Mowbray brought, only eating. After starting a jigsaw puzzle and being distracted for a moment, Mowbray returned to find the lady chewing on something.

"I don't know what this is you brought me," the resident said. "But it sure tastes like cardboard."

Volunteers also have helped residents keep intouch with relatives and the outside world, Mowbray said.

"There was a husband and wife who were living in different facilities," she said. "The volunteers conveyed their messages back and forth to each other for a long time."

As the program grew, state officials choseCarroll in 1975 to pilot the Life Enrichment program that provided activities for senior citizens. The library visits continued as part of this program.

Life Enrichment then was co-sponsored by the Carroll County Department of Aging and CCPL.

"We began to realize that the people had other needs, that they needed to get out," said Ruth Shipley of Gamber, one of the first volunteers. "We would take the residents shopping or on picnics, and later we worked with the senior centers."

Eventually, as the Life Enrichment program grew, library officials decided to separate library services from the state program.The program became known as Library Link in 1988.

"We always try to get to know the residents the books are going to," said Fique about the program's book selection. "The volunteers give us feedback on the residents' likes and dislikes and their favorite authors. We try to keep all of that in mind."

Along with the desire to serve, volunteers say they've stayed with the program because of the friends they've made among residents and other volunteers.

"I still go becausethere are still special people and new friends to meet," said Shipley. "It really doesn't require much of you to show someone else you care about them."

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