WestHaven Assisted Living here in town is run by the Orland Evangelical Free Church. The kids performed there again yesterday, and almost the entire community was gathered to listen. The residents were very friendly and most seemed happy. They clapped and made eyes at the baby while listening to the music. They thanked us profusely when it was over.
Our children have also performed at another home in Orland, and the atmosphere there was completely different. There was no joy. Only a few residents showed up. They were non-responsive. There wasn’t even a caregiver present. The kids weren’t asked back.
What’s the difference? The biggest difference is that WestHaven is a community of faith. It’s classic American evangelical protestantism at its most fervent. Every staff member agrees to a statement of religious belief. In addition to the spiritual element, it is obvious that the administration and staff care deeply about the residents. The caregivers are kind, pleasant, and devoted. Lots of smiles. They engage the residents in conversation. This isn’t just a job for them. I happen to know the administrator personally, and it isn’t just a job for him either. One of his primary goals is to serve not only the residents, but the employees as well. “We’re building a culture here”, he told me. Also, the facility is well-kept and aesthetically pleasing. Although it is an institution of 27 beds, it feels as much like a regular home as is possible under the circumstances. There is lots of sunlight and space for the residents to go outdoors. I’ve dropped in on them when they were gathered together singing hymns. Their activities for September include “shopping trip”, ” youth choir”, “tea party”, “picnic”, “matinee movie (‘High Noon’)”, “massage with Nadaline”, “ice cream social” and “wild west day & bbq”.
As for the other home? I’ve never been inside, but the outside looks thoroughly depressing. There is very little outdoor space, for one thing, and I doubt that much sunlight makes it through the windows. No flowers, no potted plants, no interesting landscaping whatsoever. The building and the surrounding foliage are dark. There is a large satellite dish in the yard. I can only speculate as to what the residents watch on television in their rooms – that alone is enough to poison the atmosphere of an entire community. The building is for sale, by the way. Probably an indicator that the owners have lost any enthusiasm they may have once had for the enterprise, and this undoubtedly affects the morale of the residents.
What might a Catholic assisted living home look like? Hopefully, it would look a lot like WestHaven in many respects, but would be quite different in others. There would be Catholic art (though not exclusively) and sacramentals throughout; daily recitation of the rosary and other devotions; readings from the Scriptures and the lives of the saints; a staff of Catholic caregivers; an outdoor shrine and Mary garden; and regular visits from a priest to hear confessions, provide spiritual direction, and celebrate Mass.
In addition, the food would be healthy and locally grown – perhaps from a vegetable garden right there on the property! (Is that legal?) Those who can’t help in the garden, can watch. Even I enjoy watching gardeners at work. I wonder, too, if it might be possible for at least some of the residents to do a little productive work. Perhaps making scapulars and rosaries, or even just stuffing envelopes. My guess is that everyone benefits from using their abilities to the fullest.
Sadly, there is no such home for elderly Catholics in this part of the state …