“The unselfish effort to bring cheer to others will be the beginning of a happier life for ourselves.” — Helen Keller
The spirit of volunteering has lived at Luther Manor since before we opened our doors in 1961. As our community was being built, women in the local churches devoted countless hours to ensure that every new room would have a beautiful, handmade quilt on the bed. Then, when construction was finished, the “bucket brigade” came in with buckets and mops to clean the floors and wash the windows.
“There’s just a very sweet, lovely history of volunteer service here. It’s been in existence all these years,” said Cheryl Schmitz, Director of Volunteer Services at Luther Manor. “It’s certainly a cornerstone, I think, of Luther Manor’s ministry, of putting your faith in action, and a firm part of our foundation. We have this amazing legacy to continue to carry on here.”
And carry it on, we do.
When The Going Got Tough, We Adapted
The pandemic may have changed the way we do certain things here at Luther Manor — we are a senior living community, after all. But it certainly hasn’t loosened the bonds of our close-knit community. Nor has it diminished the desire to help others in ways large and small.
Initially, to protect the health and well-being of everyone who lives and works here, we had to halt some of the activities and services that involved volunteers from the outside community. We were able to maintain some, though, thanks to residents who stepped up to volunteer in their place.
For example, we were able to keep the Manor Mart open, which was a real life-saver for residents who needed to buy groceries but didn’t want to risk their health by venturing out to a public grocery store. While residents of our independent living area, the Terrace, have always volunteered for shifts at the Manor Mart, a handful of community volunteers also worked shifts in the store before the pandemic. When we lost those extra helping hands, Terrace residents pitched in to cover the newly open shifts — with everyone following the recommended safety protocols, of course.
Even during the most stringent “safer at home” period, before we were able to resume some of the small group activities, Terrace residents found helpful ways to volunteer. Some kept the library areas organized, shelving books that were returned and putting new ones out. Others kept the substantial supply of jigsaw puzzles organized.
To some, these may seem like small things. But for those who were spending long hours in their apartments, having a good book to read or a puzzle to work made a big difference.
If residents wanted to take a break from being in their apartment, they could stop by the aviary and enjoy a bit of nature — thanks to the efforts of one dedicated Terrace resident who assists with feeding the finches and keeping the aviary clean. He also makes sure the fish tank is operating properly. Residents and staff alike are soothed by the mesmerizing flow of the fish.
Another resident of the Terrace, a professional musician who plays the banjo, put his talents to use by entertaining his neighbors.
We even found a way to share some pet therapy, though we couldn’t have the usual visitations. A community volunteer came in with her dog, Rhoda, and we recorded her as she explained all that was involved in training Rhoda for pet therapy. Then, we shared the recorded session on our in-house TV channel for residents to watch.
Creative workarounds like these made a difficult time much more pleasant, both for those who volunteered and others who reaped the benefits.
A Gradual Reemergence
After the on-site vaccination clinics earlier this year, we were able to slowly begin resuming our small group activities within the designated safety guidelines. That meant more of the volunteer opportunities started opening up again as well.
For instance, those who had previously led games like cribbage and Sheepshead could start them up again, as long as precautions were taken (e.g., limiting the size of the group, wearing masks and practicing social distancing).
In June, we submitted updated standard operating protocols for approval so that we could start to welcome back some of our community volunteers. Those who wanted to come back needed to go through a reengagement orientation to be updated on the health and safety protocols we’ve put in place. They also had to be fully vaccinated.
With more volunteers available, we were able to reopen our resale shop, the Den of Antiquity. At first it was open only to residents of the Terrace, starting with one day a month and then increasing to two. Recently, the shop was open to Courtyards residents for a morning.
Proceeds from the Den of Antiquity are used to support the Luther Manor Foundation, which provides financial assistance to residents of Luther Manor who outlive their financial resources. The resale shop is staffed entirely by a mix of volunteers from within Luther Manor and the outside community.
Having some of our community volunteers back made it possible to open up our model railroad again in the Terrace, too. Other volunteers engaged their aesthetic skills and helped with holiday decorations, adding a festive touch throughout the community.
Eventually, and with approval, some volunteers were able to reengage with the Luther Manor hospice service, which serves patients and families both within Luther Manor and a five-county area surrounding us.
In November, the resident who leads the veterans club here at Luther Manor put together a commemorative event for Veterans Day for all of the veterans who’ve lived in our community. Those who live in the Terrace were invited to a lunch in their honor. When it’s safe to do so, the resident leader will plan a similar lunch for the veterans living in the Courtyards and the health center.
And now that cold weather is here, residents who participate in the arts and crafts clubs have been busy knitting and crocheting hats, scarves and afghans. The items will be delivered to local churches and other organizations for distribution to people who need them most.
Grateful For Now, And Eager To Do More
For the time being — and until state and federal guidelines permit otherwise — residents at Luther Manor still cannot commingle with those in different areas. For instance, with few exceptions, Terrace residents can’t interact with those living in the Courtyards or the health center.
Nonetheless, we are all thankful for the progress we’ve made toward resuming our usual way of life at Luther Manor this year.
When we can safely return to larger group gatherings and impromptu get-togethers all across our campus, more of our pre-pandemic volunteer opportunities will open up again. We’re looking forward to several in particular:
- Caring Companions, a visitation program to increase the social connections for residents in the Courtyards and the health center
- The Little Shop, a place where residents of the Courtyards and the health center can get fresh baked goods and other snacks, as well as everyday items like beauty aids
- The ice cream parlor, a long-time favorite of Luther Manor residents, family members and staff, too!
- The coffee cart, which volunteers take through the health center, offering conversation and donated cookies
It’s important for people of all ages to stay connected, and volunteering can help keep us physically active and mentally engaged. Those benefits take on even greater relevance after retirement, when other facets of life change.
New residents at Luther Manor are always encouraged to continue with any volunteer activities they are already involved in. For those who want to find ways to give back to their new community, the possibilities are practically endless.
The options below are only a partial list of what’s normally available for volunteers in our community, and residents are always welcome to explore the possibility of starting a new program.
- Open house host/hostess
- Welcome representative (mentoring new Terrace residents)
- Movie program coordinator
- Terrace receptionist assistant
- Club/class leader (e.g., book club, exercise class, bridge, cribbage)
- Assisting with News & Notes (our monthly newsletter)
- Bingo caller
- Assisting the pastoral care team as a lector
Want To Know More?
As you can see, there’s no shortage of ways for residents at Luther Manor to actively participate in what’s going on around them. As Cheryl noted, volunteerism is an indispensable part of what makes Luther Manor such a caring, conscientious community. You could say it’s our lifeblood.
You can learn more about Luther Manor by taking a tour, whether you prefer to do so virtually or in person. Just contact us to set up a time that’s convenient.
You can also follow us on Facebook, where we regularly post updates and photos. It’s a fun and informative way to check out the latest at Luther Manor!