By LANCE CRANMER LCranmer@NationalChurchResidences.org
COLUMBUS – It’s not every day that seniors can make it to the zoo. Especially not in January. So why not bring the zoo to the seniors.
“My residents are really good about coming to me with suggestions,” said Francie Hughlock, National Church Residences Life Enrichment Director at Ravine at Central College I and II in Westerville, Ohio. “If we can get it done, we’ll get it done.”
A few months back, a resident came to Hughlock with a suggestion that seemed promising.
“She sent me a link to this program at the Columbus Zoo,” she said. “She wanted to know if it was possible to bring them into the Ravines.”
Hughlock took the request to National Church Residences management and got the green light to reach out to the Columbus Zoo.
Tuesday afternoon a Zoo van pulled up in front of Ravine at Central College carrying a cast of characters from around the globe including an armadillo, porcupine, bearded dragon, box turtle, possum, pink flamingo and an Australian critter called an echidna.
“It’s very one-on-one,” said Amy Esswein, an Animal Encounters Outreach Assistant with the Columbus Zoo. “(The seniors) get to interact with the animals in a one-on-one basis. We get to hear them tell their stories and we can share our stories with them.”
Hughlock said that when she first arrived at the Ravines shortly before the Zoo visit was to begin, she expected to have to go door-to-door to remind the residents about the event.
“As I was knocking on doors I started to realize that the people were already down there,” she said. “I saw a lot of faces in here that might not usually come downstairs in the afternoon. We even had some that didn’t want to come into the room, but they still sat in the hall and watched. They really enjoyed it.”
Esswein said that the most common groups to schedule visits from the Animal Encounters Outreach team are seniors and children, and that the animals selected for the day highly depend on the audience.
“It depends. We have a skunk. Some places don’t want anything to do with the skunk,” she laughed. “Sometimes the reactions are different. Like with snakes. Seniors tend to not like them so much, so we tend not to bring them.”
As the animals came out, residents were treated to a short presentation about each one and what was special about them. They then had the chance to pet most of them – not the porcupine, for obvious reasons – and ask questions.
“I love getting asked questions,” Esswein said. “It shows that they’re interested and really engaged.”
“I know it was a big hit,” Hughlock said. “We were having residents ‘Shh!’ the other ones who were talking.”
A crowd of better than 30 residents assembled for the presentation, which lasted around 45 minutes.
“This was open to both Ravines buildings,” Hughlock said. “If the snow hadn’t come today I think we’d have had even more people.”
Esswein said the program operates August through May and can be scheduled by calling the Columbus Zoo or visiting the Zoo’s website.
“I was listening and people were asking about next time and if they could bring different animals,” Hughlock said. “I would love to have them back.”