National Church Residences’ Dallas keeping people mobile – and laughing

judy-2

National Church Residences Transportation Manager Judy Dallas performs stand-up comedy at the Columbus Funny Bone comedy club.

By LANCE CRANMER                                                               lcranmer@nationalchurchresidences.org

COLUMBUS — Whether it’s driving a Greyhound bus or coordinating a fleet of busses to transport seniors, Judy Dallas knows that some things are universal.

“In transportation it’s all the same,” she said. “It’s people. They have to trust you. It’s different and it’s the same.”

Years back when Judy drove a Greyhound for a living, she made frequent short trips that kept her relatively close to her home and her daughter.

“You can only drive for 10 hours. I could get as far as 10 hours would take me,” she said. “Columbus to St. Louis and then go to bed. Tennessee, Chicago, Pittsburgh. I really stayed Midwest. I had a child at home.”

Today, with her daughter grown up (and also a National Church Residences employee), Judy said that it would be a different story.

“I’d be going to California, Florida, anywhere!” she said. “Once you get to a place you can just hang out there and make your way back home. But then there’s the whole thing of living out of a suitcase, literally.”

To make a little bit of extra money back in those days, Judy worked nights as a stand-up comedienne.

“I used to do comedy in the 90s with people like Sinbad and Cedric the Entertainer. We were just doing local clubs,” she said. “I was just a single parent doing it for the extra money. They wanted me to go on the road with them, but I had to stay home and be responsible.”

Eventually Judy owned her own transportation business. But when it fell on hard times she came to work for National Church Residences.

Judy initially joined the organization to drive one of the busses that serve the clients of National Church Residences Center for Senior Health.

Today, as the Transportation Manager, she is driving the efforts of the whole transportation department as it moves toward expanding its services to a wider group.

“We are now fundraising,” Judy said.

Beginning in the New Year, the transportation team in central Ohio will start fundraising with the goal of amassing $10,000 to go toward providing more transportation options for seniors.

“We want to be able to provide transportation to, not only our buildings, although they will be the main recipients, but to other apartments as well,” Judy said. “We will be doing different types of fundraising. Our drivers will be doing payroll deductions. We want to do a (fundraiser) later in the year. We have some vendors and corporate sponsors that will help.”

Judy estimated that a trip using a bus that holds 14 people costs around $170 each way.

“They send us a request and they can use the funds from our foundation to provide transportation for that group,” she said. “If a building wants to do more transportation, they can hold a fundraiser. If they can raise at least $100, we will match it and provide the transportation.”

Donations to help fund the transportation services can be sent to the attention of Van Ambrose, Vice President of National Church Residences Foundations, at the home office with the specification that it is for “CSH Transportation.”

Judy said that in Columbus and Franklin County, National Church Residences currently has the area’s largest transportation fleet – next to COTA (Central Ohio Transit Authority).

“Currently we have 30 vehicles,” she said. “We’ve always had more, but some of them were older. We had to retire faster than we could acquire. But we have 23 busses right now along with seven other vehicles. And one-third of our fleet runs on propane, which makes us certified as a ‘Green Fleet.’”

Where the larger busses get about 8 mpg, Judy said that some of the newer, smaller, vehicles get as many as 22 mpg.

“We have a diversified fleet and we’ve gone with more economical vehicles,” she said.

Having as large of an impact on transportation needs as National Church Residences does, Judy joined forces with the Ohio Transportation Equity Coalition in December to ask Ohio Governor John Kasich, “to increase Ohio’s investment in accessible, affordable and sustainable transportation options.”

In the letter sent to the Governor’s office, it is highlighted that Ohio currently ranks 47th nationally in its commitment to public transportation and cites a study from the Ohio Department of Transportation that said Ohio needs $192.4 million in capital and $96.7 million in operating funds to meet existing needs.

“We’re part of a movement and trying to make a difference in the state of Ohio,” Judy said.

A little more than a year ago, Judy returned to the stand-up comedy stage as well – this time as a gospel comedienne who tells clean jokes only.

“I had lost my business and my home and my fiancée died. I turned to my faith,” she said. “God spoke to me. I wanted to teach Sunday school or something. God spoke to me and said to go back to stand-up comedy. I was like, no, this isn’t funny.”

Over the past few months Judy has been booked to perform  around 15 shows – including at the Columbus Funny Bone – and she’s done it all without trying to promote herself.

“It’s all been word of mouth,” she said. “I like to say that God is my promoter.”

Bonnie and Jane: A Care Guide success story

Jane and Bonnie

Bonnie Dietz, a resident at Birchwood Apartments in Greeley, Colorado, and Jane Schwarz, a National Church Residences Service Coordinator, pose for a photo after sharing their Care Guide success story.

By LANCE CRANMER                                                              lcranmer@nationalchurchresidences.org

GREELEY, Colorado – Bonnie Dietz and her friends often gather in the lounge at Birchwood Apartments to play cards.

One afternoon nearly three months ago, Jane Schwarz, the building’s National Church Residences Service Coordinator, stopped by the group to check in.

“The lounge is right outside of Jane’s office,” Bonnie said. “She came out and talked to me for a minute and she said, ‘when you get finished with your card game, I want to talk to you.’”

Jane had a question for Bonnie that, at the time, seemed odd. However, it turned out to be a question that may have saved Bonnie’s life.

“Out of the blue she said, ‘have you seen a urologist?’” Bonnie said. “I thought, what’s going on? I have had a bit of kidney problems along with my diabetes. I didn’t know Jane was interested in this. I knew she knew about it. But I puzzled over it for a while. I thought it must just be something she needs to know.”

What Jane was doing was utilizing Care Guide, National Church Residences’ innovative program designed to create better long-term health care outcomes for our residents.

“Sometimes I pull up Care Guide and just look at what I wrote last quarter and I ask residents if they’re still going through the same things. I ask them, ‘are you still doing this or that?’ Or ‘are you still on the same amounts of this medication?’ Or just, ‘how are you feeling?’” Jane said. “Then sometimes they start telling you more about other things.”

Because of Jane’s question, Bonnie decided it might be time for a visit to her primary care physician for a check-up.

“It did instigate me to call and make an appointment,” Bonnie said. “I went in to see him on Feb. 1. He said my diabetes is fine and my blood pressure is fine. They took some lab work. Then he called the next day and said get over to the nephrology clinic because you’ve got some problems.”

Bonnie went to see the nephrologist – a doctor that specializes in kidney care – and found out some shocking news.

“I went over there and they tested my kidneys,” she said. “They said I was down to 30 percent of my function. Anything below that and you have to start thinking about dialysis.”

Shortly after hearing this diagnosis, Bonnie made an appointment with Jane to help her figure out Colorado’s Food Tax Rebate paperwork.

“I thought I was in trouble. She said, ‘first, I want to talk to you,’” Jane said. “She asked me why I had asked her about kidney disease. I explained that it was one of the chronic conditions that we follow up on in Care Guide.”

“I didn’t know that the Service Coordinator did that,” Bonnie said. “She was so tickled that her question had spurred me to go and see the doctor.”

Bonnie’s primary care physician gave her some recommendations on how to help strengthen her kidneys and avoid having to start dialysis.

Bonnie, who is 83 years old, has lived in a few different senior citizen apartment complexes.

“I was a cook in hospitals and nursing homes when I lived in Kansas,” she said. “Before that we were farmers. We had a farm and raised a family here (in Colorado).”

After her husband of 33 years passed away, Bonnie chose to move into an apartment. It wasn’t until she arrived at Birchwood Apartments, however, that she was introduced to a Service Coordinator.

“It’s really helpful,” she said. “There’s so much paperwork and things anymore that she can help me with. I don’t have a car and have to find transportation. It really is a help to have her here. She provides workshops during the week for different things. Right now there’s a living healthy workshop that comes once a week and we go attend that. It’s a real help.”

Jane said that as a National Church Residences Service Coordinator, it was exciting to see the work she does pay off in such a direct way.

“Sometimes it’s hard to see an action when you’re helping somebody because you don’t see the reaction,” she said. “In this case I did and I saw it come full-circle. It was exciting for me to see that take shape.”

Birchwood Apartments is a 173-resident senior apartment complex that has a Service Coordination contract with National Church Residences. Jane said that when Care Guide was first introduced, residents initially had some questions. But today they full embrace the positive impact it has had on their overall health.

“Just having the discussions with them prompts them to think about their health and more forward and talk to their doctor about it,” Jane said. “Bonnie is really good about advocating for herself and she took some action.”

 

 

 

National Church Residences hospice services continue to grow in southern Ohio

Hospice 1

By LANCE CRANMER                                                                lcranmer@nationalchurchresidences.org

WAVERLY, Ohio – It’s far too simple of a statement to say that it takes a special kind of person to be a hospice worker.

“It is a service that really touches the patient, as well as everyone around them,” said Sandy Lawhorn, the Director of Clinical Services for National Church Residences’ hospice team at Bristol Village Health Care in Waverly, Ohio. “It not only looks at a patient and their physical illness, it focuses on a broader spectrum of what is going on in their lives. Their social needs, spiritual needs, medical needs. To work in hospice and stay in hospice takes a special kind of personality.”

Sandy has spent 24 of her 31 years in the nursing profession focused on hospice care – the last five-plus year of which have been spent with National Church Residences.

“I feel like I’m blessed with some of the best staff here,” she said. “It is a stressful job. You get attached to the people, and eventually they pass. It’s difficult.”

However, Sandy said that her hospice co-workers have a strong sense of teamwork and pull together to help each other when things become difficult.

“I’ve heard my staff when one person has a rough week and has a lot going on, I’ve witnessed other members of the staff say, ‘Hey, can I see one of your patients for you this week?’ The staff we have is just wonderful. They are so supportive of each other. They understand when a person is going through a rough week and they find ways to help each other.”

When National Church Residences began to offer hospice services in southern Ohio, it was primarily residents who received hospice care.

Today, as the services have expanded, that has changed greatly.

“We are expanding more out in the community,” Sandy said. “We are growing beyond our borders more than we initially had. It is exciting to me to see that we’re growing and reaching out instead of being in the smaller areas that we were in when I first started.”

From Bristol Village, located in Pike County, the National Church Residences hospice team now offers hospice care in surrounding counties including Ross, Scioto, Jackson and Vinton – an area that is home to nearly 233,000 Ohioans.

“About six months ago we were in the low 50s (in number of patients),” Sandy said. “Now, for the last couple of months we have had about 75 patients. We’ve grown quite a bit in just the last few months.”

Sandy said that her staff includes five full-time RNs and three contingent RNs (with two more positions to be filled soon), three full-time aides and five contingent aides, two social workers, a volunteer coordinator, a bereavement coordinator, a spiritual coordinator and two office staff.

They serve National Church Residences facilities and have contracts to serve other outlying nursing facilities and also private patients.

“We are available 24/7,” Sandy said. “If they need pain medicine, if they need a visit, we always have an RN available. We will go to their home or their facility and address that need. If they don’t have a family that is able to visit often, we fill that gap. We take them gifts and play games with them. And we have a great group of vigil volunteers that go and sit with patients when they are in the last one-to-two days of their life.”

The National Church Residences hospice staff can also provide help with Medicare issues, provide necessary medical equipment and even offer bereavement services to grieving family members.

“All of those things are covered at no cost to the patient when they’re receiving hospice services,” Sandy said.

Every six months, the hospice staff conducts a life celebration to recognize clients who have passed away.

“It is a wonderful service, very informal, with a sit-down meal,” Sandy said. “We read each person’s name and light a candle for that person. Any family that is there can share whatever they want to share about their loved one and the staff shares some of their memories, too.”

Celebrating Black History: Henry Dodson, an Atlanta Civil Rights Pioneer

Photo courtesy of the Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center

From 1975 to 1979, Henry Dodson served as the first African-American county commissioner for Fulton County, Georgia. Photo courtesy of the Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center.

By LANCE CRANMER                                                          lcranmer@nationalchurchresidences.org

ATLANTA – To list the highlights of Henry Dodson’s accomplishments is to chart a graph of the Civil Rights movement in the south in the volatile 1950s and 60s.

A small business owner, a civic leader, a Deacon in Atlanta’s legendary Ebenezer Baptist Church, Dodson cannot point to a single moment in his storied life that was more important than another.

“That’s a hard question to answer,” he said. “I was always ambitious enough to want more and to be involved. I couldn’t say there was one particular thing, I don’t believe. Just being born the way I was born was the important thing. I was able to do things that I couldn’t do now.”

Dodson was born on April 6, 1932 to Henry, Sr., and Christine Dodson, the first African-American gas station owners in the history of Atlanta.

When Dodson was only seven years old his father passed away, leaving a young widow with three children.

“We lived near Ebenezer Baptist Church. We grew up in Ebenezer, basically,” Dodson said.

The church’s leader at the time was Martin Luther King, Sr., the father of future Civil Rights pioneer the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Before my father died, he asked Rev. King for help with his three kids. He wanted us to be looked after a little bit,” Dodson said. “Rev. King became my Godfather, I guess you’d call it.”

Following his father’s death, Dodson and his younger brother were eventually sent to live with their grandparents on their farm in Chickamauga, near the Tennessee border.

At the age of 20, after several years of working on the farm, Dodson moved to Chattanooga to become a photography apprentice. Before long, he owned his own photography business with the slogan, “If there’s beauty, we take it. If there’s none, we make it.”

“I don’t know if it made me famous, but I made a living at it,” Dodson said with a laugh.

In the early 1950s, Dodson left Chattanooga and returned to his hometown of Atlanta, where he briefly worked in the Fulton County Bag and Cotton Mills before reopening his photography and printing business.

“I started off taking pictures on the side. But soon I was making more money on the side than I was at my job, so I quit my job and opened up my studio on 100th Street in Atlanta,” Dodson said. “That’s when I started hanging around people who wanted to be in politics in Atlanta.”

And again, he became a fixture in the Ebenezer Baptist Church, becoming a Deacon.

“I was around Rev. King every day,” Dodson said. “When Rev. King made the motion to bring his son back from Alabama to become our co-pastor, most of the men in the church were scared that our church was going to get bombed by the Ku Klux Klan. But I seconded the motion to bring him back.”

Dodson said that the more time he spent with the black religious and political leaders of the time, the more he strived to be like them.

“When I went into business, I hung around Morehouse College,” he said. “The people who hung out there talked a lot about being men. I always picked up nuggets there that I could use in life. I just had this inspiration about what I was trying to do.”

The moment that brought him his first major recognition in the community came when he got a call from Jet Magazine, a weekly publication founded in 1951 and marketed toward black readers, for a photography assignment.

Jet Magazine called me to take a woman’s picture. And they gave me name credit,” he said. “Everybody in my community wanted to be in Jet. That got me in all the cliques. When they saw my name in Jet Magazine, I could say, ‘I’m a Jet photographer, come on in! I can take your picture, but I can’t guarantee you’ll get in Jet.’”

CAREER IN POLITICS

Having established himself as an influential member of the black community in Atlanta, in 1967 at the age of 35, Dodson launched a grass roots campaign to become an Alderman – a position the equivalent of today’s city council – in Atlanta.

“We’re talking about the 60s. Black people wanted to be in a position of power,” he said. “But you only had blacks wanting you in office.”

Dodson’s campaign was a success and in 1969 he became an Atlanta Alderman. At the time, being an Alderman meant that you had complete control over one aspect of city government. Dodson was chosen as Chairman of the Board of Fire Masters for the City.

“Back in that day, if you were chairman of a committee, you were the boss of a department,” he said. “I was head of the fire department.”

With that responsibility came a whole new set of challenges.

“With the fire department and the police department, that’s where the Ku Klux Klan made their living. Probably some of my men were, at least at one time, involved with the KKK,” Dodson said. “They hated me when I was first appointed chairman. I had firemen come in and protest. But after about three months, they began to like me.”

As to how he won them over: “If I knew that…?” Dodson said, trailing off into laughter.

When he lost his re-election bid in 1973, Dodson turned his attention to county government. Two years later, Dodson, along with J.O. Wyatt, became the first black men in history elected as Fulton County Commissioners.

“You had absolute power in county government,” he said.

The first thing Dodson set out to do was to get more African-Americans jobs in the county.

“Only three blacks worked in the county courthouse,” he said. “All the departments had to be integrated to the point where blacks had a chance to have jobs there.”

Dodson earned the reputation of being a full-time commissioner who was present in his office every day and worked hard to serve his constituents.

He served one term with the county and left politics in 1979, returning to his career as a photographer and printer.

Dodson, who has five children, 11 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren, has lived for the last 10 years at National Church Residences Trinity Towers in Atlanta. He said that many of his neighbors are probably unaware of his lengthy career serving the people of Atlanta.

“Some know about me and some don’t.  Most the people here are 60 or above and they’ve lived their own lives,” he said. “Some mostly live in the past. But back in the day, we wanted to move Atlanta forward.”

Nearly four years ago, Fulton County let Dodson know that plenty of people still remember the work that he did.

“On my 80th birthday party, the county decided to give me a proclamation for working in county government. Then the city heard about it, and they duplicated it. And then the state heard, and they duplicated it,” Dodson said. “Usually you don’t get that until after you’re dead and gone.”

The most impressive thing about the honor, Dodson joked, was that every member of Atlanta City Council signed the proclamation to honor him.

“All of them signed it,” he said. “That’s probably the only thing all of them ever got together on.”

MORE TO ACCOMPLISH

Dodson admits many may view his experiences in life as impressive.

“It was amazing, but we didn’t look at it as being different,” he said. “It was just our lives.”

He said that he still has boxes of 55-years-worth of pictures he took of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and other leaders of the Civil Rights movement that he hasn’t sorted through. Eventually he’d like to use the photos along with his experiences to publish a book – which he has tentatively titled “Country Boy Comes to Town.”

When talking about progress and equality, Dodson said that some things have undoubtedly gotten better, while some have sadly stayed too much the same.

“We did make a lot of progress, but we didn’t do that much progress. We still have the same hatred going on that we had 20 years ago,” he said. “Schools and churches may be integrated now, but they’re also more separate now than they were 20 years ago.”

Dodson said that after working to help get Jimmy Carter elected as Governor of Georgia in 1971, he briefly flirted with the idea of pursuing politics on a larger scale.

He ran for a seat in the US House of Representatives in 1972 but did not win.

“If they had elected me to Congress,” he said, “Washington would not be the same.”

dodson

Doubleday Woods residents awarded keys to the village

DoubledayWoods1

(Doris Pinto and Carol Johnson with their Keys to the Village of Ballston Spa.)

By LANCE CRANMER                                                                     lcranmer@nationalchurchresidences.org

BALLSTON SPA, NY – In John Romano’s 21 years as Mayor of the Village of Ballston Spa, New York, he has only given away eight ceremonial keys to the village. Two of those, however, have been handed out in the last few months – and both of them to residents of National Church Residences Doubleday Woods.

“I’ve been going to a lot of functions (at Doubleday Woods) lately and I wanted to let them know that we value their residency,” said Romano. “They’re as important as anybody in the village.”

The residents at Doubleday Woods had not always been as connected to the goings on in Ballston Spa, a village of 5,500 people that serves as the seat of Saratoga County, located 30 minutes north of Albany.

“I think at one point there was a feeling with a lot of residents in the village that the residents at Doubleday Woods weren’t a part of the village,” Romano said.

That sentiment started to change when a group of ladies from Doubleday Woods’ Residents Association began regularly attending meetings of the village council.

“Our residents here are pretty much homebound,” said Carol Johnson, the President of the Residents Association. “There are a few of us who get out and go here and there if they have relatives who go and get them. We thought it would be nice for a few of us to start attending the meetings. To help let people know what’s going on.”

“We go to all the meetings at the mayor’s office, all the meetings at town hall, and when necessary the planning board meetings,” said Doris Pinto, the association’s Vice President. “It is an effort to keep us notified of what’s going on in town. When something important happens, we report that back to our residents at our monthly meetings.”

The ladies became such a fixture at the meetings that last year an official meeting of the Ballston Spa Village Council was held at Doubleday Woods.

“We had it outside last summer,” said Johnson. “We’re planning on having another board meeting. We’re trying to get the people here active in the community.”

As the relationship between village officials and Doubleday Woods residents grew, Romano found himself visiting with the seniors more and more.

“He’s great,” said Pinto. “He has come to our potluck dinners, which we have once a month. He comes and so does the town supervisor. We appreciate that.”

This winter, as his token of thanks to the resident’s association, Romano awarded Johnson and Pinto with ceremonial keys to the village on their birthdays.

“You know, it doesn’t fit the bank, I will tell you this much,” said Pinto with a laugh. “It weighs a ton, otherwise I would wear it on a chain around my neck.”

“I’ve had a few comments about, ‘Gee, can we borrow your key to get into the city? Can we get into the bank?’” Johnson added. “I don’t think that will work.”

Both women now have their keys mounted on plaques and displayed in their homes.

“I am very proud of it,” said Johnson. “I was very surprised.”

“They’re a great group of people up there,” Romano said of the residents of Doubleday Woods. “I thought it would be a nice thing to recognize them on their birthday and present them with a key. In my view, it’s the seniors and their sacrifices that have paved the way to our successes today. I think it’s a good thing to recognize people for the things that they’ve done in the past to make the community better today.”

From ammo to ‘Doughnut Dollies,’ WWII vet hauled important cargo across Europe

Earl Todt, a World War II veteran at National Church Residences Bristol Village, hauled everything from ammunition to doughnuts and Red Cross girls across Europe.

Earl Todt, a World War II veteran at National Church Residences Bristol Village, hauled everything from ammunition to doughnuts and Red Cross girls across Europe.

By LANCE CRANMER                                           lcranmer@nationalchurchresidences.org

WAVERLY, Ohio – Earl Todt recalls exactly where he was 71 years ago yesterday.

A truck driver in the United States Army during World War II with the 103rd Infantry, Earl was hauling ammunition and a gun crew across Europe in November 1944.

“We went up the Rhone River, up into the mountains of southern France. That’s where we met our first engagement with the Germans. We were shelled for the first time on Armistice Day,” he said, referring to the November 11 holiday that celebrates the end of World War I. “That’s a day I remember very well.”

Earl’s group survived the German attack and pushed further north toward the fighting.

“From there we went various places north through France, wherever there were pockets of Germans,” he said. “During the Battle of the Bulge (which began Dec. 16, 1944) we were in reserve, just south of the Bulge. After that was over we went south in France along the German/French border.”

His unit crossed into Germany and made it safely to Innsbruck, Austria, where they met up with the forces led by Lt. General Mark W. Clark on May 7, 1945.

The journey across war-torn Europe was a daily challenge for Earl and his brothers.

“My closest experience to being injured was one night when our convoy was strafed by a German plane,” he said. “We were told to scatter in the fields on either side of the road. The fields were all filled with shoe mines. We didn’t know that until somebody hit one. The fella running with me was from Texas. He stepped on a shoe mine and it blew his foot off. We were laying there and he was screaming. I laid there all night. I didn’t move. I didn’t know what I would be stepping on. It was pretty messy.”

Earl, a Columbus, Ohio, native, had never intended to be a truck driver. After college he enlisted in the Army Air Corps where he was classified as a navigator.

“About that time, the Army decided they had enough in the Air Corps and they needed ground troops,” he said. “I ended up in the 103rd Infantry and got sent to basic training in the swamps of Mississippi. Then on to Camp Howze near Sherman, Texas.”

It was around this time that Earl’s calling as a driver came to be.

“I realized there was an opening for truck driver in my platoon, so I volunteered for that,” he said. “That became my vocation in the service. My division, after training in Texas, was shipped to New York and our division went to Marseilles, France, where we were part of the 7th Army.”

Many long months later, Earl was through the worst of the fighting and safely stationed in Austria.

While Earl’s services as a truck driver were still in demand, suddenly, his cargo took on a much different role.

“We were an Army of occupation in Austria for the summer. I had a break during that time. And then my truck and I were assigned to a new regiment,” he said. “We were assigned to haul doughnuts and Red Cross girls. I went from Army ammunition to hauling doughnuts and girls across Austria. What a transition.”

As part of morale building efforts, the Red Cross sent out the ladies, affectionately known as “Doughnut Dollies,” to visit the soldiers and pass out doughnuts and coffee.

“After hauling ammunition and a gun crew, the girls were the safest thing I ever transported,” Earl laughed. “I was the envy of our regiment. I never stopped getting razzed for that.”

Earl hauled his cargo for roughly two months through July and August before being transferred to Camp Lucky Strike near Paris.

Shortly after, he was transported home from England to New York City on the RMS Aquitania.

After being discharged in 1946, Earl returned to Columbus.

He retired to National Church Residences Bristol Village in Waverly in 2000.

Ohio State doctoral student pioneers study on resilience with National Church Residences

Matthew Fullen and Ohio State University President Michael V. Drake at a ceremony recognizing the Schweitzer Fellowship.

Matthew Fullen and Ohio State University President Michael V. Drake at a ceremony recognizing the Schweitzer Fellowship.

By LANCE CRANMER                                          lcranmer@nationalchurchresidences.org

COLUMBUS – Working in the mental health field and specializing in providing care for aging adults, Matthew Fullen began to notice a recurring theme.

“A lot of health care is focused on dealing with physical concerns that older adults express,” he said. “Other psychological, emotional and spiritual concerns are made into second-class citizens.”

A doctoral student at the Ohio State University College of Education and Human Ecology, Fullen was awarded with an Albert Schweitzer Fellowship, and used his sponsorship to create a study on resilience that he brought to National Church Residences.

“I reached out to Dan Fagan (Vice President of Home and Community Services) and Terri Allton (Senior Vice President of Home and Community Services) and they were both supportive,” Fullen said. “The three of us identified the Adult Day Center on Livingston Avenue as a great place to pilot some of these new ideas.”

The project had two prongs: first, to focus on acknowledging the staff at the facility and finding their individual strengths, and second, to work with the clients and talk to them about what it means to be resilient.

“Sometimes we don’t recognize that in older adults,” Fullen said. “We don’t give them a chance to notice the ways they’ve been resilient.”

Thirty clients at National Church Residences Livingston Avenue Center for Senior Health in Columbus, Ohio, participated in the nine-week program with Fullen and Sean Gorby, a fellow Ph. D student at OSU and the co-facilitator and co-researcher.

“We allowed clients to talk about ways they’ve been resilient and to hear stories from other clients there who have also demonstrated resilience,” Fullen said. “The way we implemented it was by framing our discussion through different areas of wellness. What about physical wellness? Next week, how have you been resilient through relationships? We cycled through several categories that allowed people to think about resilience in a way that was holistic. They were able to think about ways they’ve been resilient in their lives and it broadened their picture of resilience.”

The more the clients began to participate, the more excited they became for each weekly session.

“We had some really lively discussions,” Fullen said. “At the start of every Friday there was a palpable energy in the room. People were excited to talk about their lives, the challenges they’ve been facing and the ways they’ve been resilient.”

“It has really helped me because you know your situation but you find that others … we’re different but we’re all alike,” said an 83-year old Livingston client who participated in the study. “I’ve learned a whole lot, and it’s just a blessing being together and everybody sharing what’s happened to them or what is happening to them and to know that you’re not alone.”

The participants in the study ranged from 59 to 94 years old with the average age being 78. Eighty percent were African-American and more than half were both Medicare and Medicaid eligible.

After the nine week study concluded, 96 percent of participants reported enjoying the class and feeling a higher level of wellness and 92 percent said they felt generally happier than they previously had.

“Many individuals said they had no idea what some of the other folks in the room had been through and that allowed them to really appreciate their own resilience,” Fullen said.

In working with the staff, Fullen organized a “SPA Day” with SPA meaning “Strengthening Pride in Aging.”

“It was a way of giving the staff a chance to be celebrated,” he said. “We had massage therapists, a catered luncheon, and they learned about each other’s strength inventories. And in some follow-up surveys, 100 percent said it was helpful … and it made them feel proud of their work at Livingston and that they would recommend the strengths assessments to their friends.”

Fullen’s decision to bring his research proposals to a National Church Residences facility did not happen by chance. A decade before, he had been employed by the organization in a much different role that allowed him to work directly with aging adults in a time of need.

“It really started in 2005 when I worked for National Church Residences. That started me down this path that, now, 10 years later I am very committed to. I see it as a calling,” said Fullen, who worked as a Relocation Coordinator, helping residents transition into temporary homes during periods where National Church Residences facilities are being renovated. “It was a brilliant way to put a human touch on the whole relocation process. It gave me a lot of opportunities to interact with older adults in a time of somewhat crisis for them. That was a lot of built-in practice in helping even think about overcoming adversity. When you’re in your 70s and thinking you’re never going to move again, that requires some convincing.”

After a few years with the organization, Fullen chose to go back to school.

“I got my Master’s Degree in clinical counseling and another in Divinity. Really my professional focus has been thinking about how to help older adults maximize satisfaction with the feelings that come with aging,” he said. “I help them think about again and see it as an opportunity to grow and continue to be involved in their families and their communities.”

Later, when Fullen had the chance to study his ideas through the Schweitzer Fellowship, the 32-year old Hilliard, Ohio-native, knew National Church Residences would be the perfect partner.

“It’s been a privilege to work alongside National Church Residences,” he said. “National Church Residences is a leader in thinking innovatively about how to navigate the aging process.”

The results of the research will eventually be compiled into a manuscript and will be published.

“We hope this will lead to other opportunities to replicate this study at other sites,” Fullen said. “Currently I’m in some conversations with National Church Residences about how to expand this program and how to continue the positive momentum that’s taken place at Livingston.”

Fullen said that focusing his education through the years on not only health care but also religion has been a blessing.

“That fit so well with this resilience idea,” he said. “You look at how people’s bodies are changing and it’s easy to be discouraged. But you look at a whole person, their spiritual vitalogy, and you see aging as something not to be afraid of. It can be very hopeful. You think about again in new ways that can be very important to all of us. We’re all going to go through it at some point.”

Matthew Fullen with National Church Residences Vice President of Home and Community Services Dan Fagan.

Matthew Fullen with National Church Residences Vice President of Home and Community Services Dan Fagan.