Volunteer couple try to help others to age gracefully

Spirit of Sharing

December 12, 2006|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,sun reporter

Virtually every day for almost three years, Wesley and Stella Jefferies drove to Stella Maris care center in Timonium to visit his mother.

When she died in 2003 at the age of 97, Wesley Jefferies thought their visits to the center would end. But they didn't.

"Once she passed, we just continued coming on," says Jefferies, 63, who has retired from General Motors after 33 years. "We know most of the residents. It'll be six years we've been coming out here. Two, three times a week. Sometimes it's four."

The Jefferieses volunteer helping the elderly residents of Stella Maris who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of mental loss. They feed them, keep them company, play bingo games with them and go to their parties.

"I don't feel as though anybody who has lived to be as old as they are should have to be eating with their hands," says Stella Jefferies, 59, who worked 35 years for a pharmaceutical company. "I don't think that's right."

On Mondays and Tuesdays the White Marsh couple go bowling, but on most other days, they spend their afternoons at Stella Maris helping care for those no longer able to care for themselves.

Stella Jefferies introduces one resident, Frances Armstrong, who says she was an actress.

"I guess I still am," Armstrong says tentatively. "I haven't done anything for a while."

She says she acted in New York before moving to Baltimore, but she no longer can remember where she performed or the parts she played.

"I usually write them all down. But I can't even remember that now," she says.

Jefferies stops to talk to a woman who wants another plate of food.

"You haven't finished the food you have," she says.

"My grandson, I guess, he wants some," the woman says. "He wants some. He's just sitting there not eating."

Jefferies doesn't miss a beat. "OK, well, I'll make sure he gets some." She knows there is no grandson.

"We find it's easier to go along with the program," she explains. "See that lady with the purse on? She comes in here 1,001 times at night and wants to know where her apartment is. Or she wants us to take her to Flushing, N.Y.

"We say OK. But when we leave, she's forgotten about it. So you satisfy them for the time. Then they totally forget about it. It's sad but it's true."

When lunch is over, Wesley Jefferies cleans off the tables and sweeps the floor. "Just to help the workers out," he says.

Then residents of the floor are ready to play bingo.

"I'm a winner," says Hedy Stoppa, who's been waiting all day for this game. "I play one, two, three cards."

"You would play six, if we let you," Wesley Jefferies teases.

The Jefferieses have brought prizes - kewpie dolls dressed as cowgirls in chaps and dancing girls in miniskirts.

John McLoughlin, the director of volunteers at Stella Maris, praises the patience and compassion the Jefferieses show the residents at the center. "They have a gracious, non-intrusive manner, and they're so light-humored about it all," he says.

Helping residents as they near life's end has prompted Wesley Jefferies to reflect about growing old.

"I just ask the good Lord to let me stay here as long as I'm able to take care of myself," he said. "If I make it to 75 or 80, I'm satisfied."

carl.schoettler@baltsun.com

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