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Abundant Living tries to ‘meet folks where they are’

By Mandy Monath
For The Salisbury Post
“Enjoying the moment” is a catch-phrase at Abundant Living Adult Day Services. But when “Henry” was dropped off there on his first day, he was having none of it. In fact, he was plain mad.
His wife had begged him to try Abundant Living for just one day. Henry has Alzheimer’s and cannot stay at home alone, but his wife still needed to work and was having a difficult time finding someone to care for him while she was at her job.
Henry was convinced that she had “left him at the nursing home.” The staff at Abundant Living assured him that they were going home at 5 p.m. and so would he. But Henry was afraid he’d never see his house again.
Abundant Living, a ministry of Lutheran Services for the Aging and a United Way Agency, provides daytime care for people like Henry. It’s a dream come true for families trying to care for someone at home with cognitive or physical disabilities.
“There are a lot of wonderful facilities out there for long-term care that fill a vital need,” says Director Barbara Garwood. “But we offer an alternative. Our goal is to meet our folks where they are.”
In addition to taking care of people physically ó there are a registered nurse and two certified assistants on staff ó Abundant Living looks for ways to help each individual reconnect with life. At the end of the day, a patient with dementia may not even remember playing flyswatter volleyball (gather around a table, grab some balloons, a flyswatter, and go at it!), but while he’s playing with new-found friends, he’s laughing and enjoying the moment.
At Abundant Living, there are lots of chances to do just that. Doris Bassett, the activities coordinator, rattles off a dizzying array of things she plans for the participants that are tailored to their individual abilities.
“We do play bingo because they love it, but we don’t stop there,” Bassett says.
A grant from the United Way provided an Activities Kitchen in the new facility that allows participants to cook ó something many of them miss doing.
“Cookies, pizza, banana pudding ó those are big favorites,” Bassett says. “In March, they made green Jell-O with pistachios and marshmallows for St. Patrick’s Day. Tomorrow we’re making pigs-in-a-blanket.”
The results of these “Kitchen Kapers” are always served for afternoon snack.
Bassett tries hard to keep participants in touch with their community. Visitors are always welcome.
Therapy dogs ó Sue, Bear, Amy and Dupree ó drop by for a hug and a snuggle. The feel of the animals’ fur sparks memories and stories of pets long ago.
Patients with dementia respond to music long after they have lost other abilities, so Bassett keeps the beat going. Musicians from the community like to hone their skills here. Country music never fails to get everyone who can do it up and dancing, often to the great surprise of their families.
“Don’t tell me she danced!” exclaimed one woman’s daughter when she came to pick up her mother.
Honey, she danced.
First-graders from Salisbury Academy come to read books out loud. Children from Wiley Lash Head Start come to color. And the East Rowan Junior Civitan throws Christmas and Easter parties every year.
Bassett even arranges field trips for those participants who are able ó breakfast at nearby Community Baptist Church, picnics at Dan Nicholas Park and bowling at Woodleaf Lanes.
The great room in the new facility, feels like big hotel lobby, but cozier. Decorated in what you might call “Bob Timberlake Does Spring,” it’s furnished with club chairs and love seats in small conversation groups. There’s still space, not only for dancing, but for floor games like miniature golf, shuffleboard, and the new Wii that was donated, along with a big-screen TV, by Paul Fisher and F&M Bank.
Guests for “A Wine and Tapas Experience” will also very likely spill out into the sunroom and the garden terrace where, during the week, participants can enjoy gardening in special raised flower beds provided by a grant from St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.
Three years ago, Abundant Living hit on a concept for their annual fundraising event that perfectly expressed their mission. In order to “put a face” on caring for the elderly, they arranged for area artists to paint or make photographic portraits of their current participants. Each year, the portraits are displayed at the “Faces” event, and then go on tour throughout Rowan County before being presented to the families. For the last exhibit, local artist Janie Allen painted a portrait of Frances Collins.
Frances’ daughter Sandra says, “We never would have thought to have her portrait done, but we really treasure it.”
The portraits are the true heart of this event. They are full of lively details and surprises ó a sly smile, a sweet expression ó and the accompanying biographies offer further abundant proof of rich and interesting lives.
When Henry saw his wife walking through the door of Abundant Living to pick him up at the end of that first day, he finally smiled.
“I never knew there was a place like this,” Henry said.
He was still smiling when he came back the next morning.

Mandy Monath is a freelance writer who lives in Salisbury.

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