Imagine traveling two hours, round-trip, every week; maybe twice a week, because you care about someone.
Typically, this kind of tedium is limited to visiting close friends or family, but Mischelle “Mikki” Anderson does it out of love for the residents of Ridgeland Nursing Center on Grays Highway in Ridgeland, SC.
“She comes in five or six times out of the month,” Katina “Tina” Orr, Director of Activities at Ridgeland Nursing Center, says. “She’s always coming in, bringing goodies and doing one-on-ones.”
Every week, Mikki makes her way from Beaufort’s barrier isles to Ridgeland to visit residents at the center. She’s been doing it since she moved to Fripp Island from Florida, where she was known as the “Elder Whisperer” for her ability to make cranky senior women giggle and grumpy old men melt like chocolate candy.
“I just come because there are a lot of elders who need to be loved on. I’m very passionate about it,” she explains.
“When I walk in I say, ‘Hello you beautiful people,’ and when I leave I say, ‘I love you’.”
Every time Mikki visits, she loves on the residents one at a time, listening and caring for them in one of the simplest and most effective ways—conversation. She longs to see them happy and fulfilled, in a community that feels like family.
“This is the last place they’re going to be, in some cases. So I’m going to make sure that when they take that ride, they’re going to be smiling, because they know they were loved,” Mikki says.
For a place like Ridgeland Nursing Center, which been a part of this community for the past 38 years, it’s vitally important that neighbors and families be involved.
It’s of the utmost importance that these seniors feel like they’re cared for by the staff and community.
Whether it be daughters and sons surrounding their dad, admitted to the recently renovated rehabilitation center due to a hip fracture; or friends visiting each week to cheer up a new resident, it’s tenderness and touch that subtly become key motivators.
“Those bonds are important, certainly for the residents here, but for the people who participate and agree to open their world and use their time to make a difference. I can tell you on a very personal level, the community here in Ridgeland is pretty amazing,” Stacey Walker, Director of Rehabilitation observes. “We have patients here who see family infrequently, if ever, and they learn to rely on the staff, especially the people who have been here forever and will be here for an indefinite period of time. The Ridgeland nursing staff becomes a secondary and tertiary family for them.”
Stacy has seen the struggle firsthand.
She relocated her mother to Ridgeland Nursing Center from her home in Tennessee. “It was immeasurably difficult, I can’t even tell you,” she says. “But the staff that has been here…the vast majority have been here for a very long time, . The staff serves as family to the residents who live here.”
Ridgeland has recently upgraded their rehabilitation program and re-tooled their facility with a new rehabilitation room and walking garden. They have also collaborated collaborated with Sea Island Therapy to provide occupational, physical and speech therapists to Ridgeland’s program.
Different staff members operate in different ways.
Stacy and her rehab crew handle stroke recovery, arthritic conditions, Alzheimer’s, orthopedic injuries and more. Tina Orr coordinates activities to provide that little extra spark in their day.
Tina schedules many churches in the area, including Ridgeland Baptist Church, Faith Ridgeland Church, Church of the Cross, Gillisonville, Coosawhatchie Baptist Church, Kingdom Touch Ministry and Mount Pleasant AME Missionaries and more. These ministries schedule Bible studies or sermons, and offer music and sometimes a communion service to the residents. Tina also gets students involved by partnering with schools, including Thomas Heyward Academy, Ridgeland-Hardeeville High School and the homeschool program at Faith Baptist Church.
Some of the school activities have delighted the residents.
For instance, the homeschooled students who meet at Faith Baptist Church decorated the residents’ doors with fall-themed décor.
School choirs and children often sing at Ridgeland Nursing Center. Eddie Stanley’s senior government/economics class from Thomas Heyward Academy visited to learn about the center. One of the biggest joys, Tara indicates, arrives Wednesday nights when the Ridgeland Baptist Church kids bring crafts they’ve made.
“They really love having children coming over to visit,” Tara Hayes, Administrative Secretary and youth leader at Ridgeland Baptist Church, explains. “And I know it benefits the children because they love to see how excited the residents are when they come over there.”
It’s hard to say what trumps kids’ gift night, but nothing seems to beat the 3 o’clock bingo on Monday afternoons.
Not the Saturday arts and crafts, or their mind-jogging trivia, not bean bag tosses or sing-a-longs. Possibly the mock-trial court cases in which the residents play the part of the judge…but maybe not!
A list packed with things to do and people to see may seem like just a way to fill up the day, but it’s much more than that—it’s a way to assure that the surrounding community interacts with the war veterans and other unique individuals who were once doctors, professional boxers or models and now live at Ridgeland Nursing Center.
“It’s very important for our residents because this is their home,” Tina points out. “A lot of them can’t get out and go participate in different things, so it’s very important that our community and our volunteers, which are greatly appreciated, come into their homes and make them feel special and welcome, especially during the holidays.”
“People say not one person can make a change—but that’s not true. You can make a change,” she emphasized.
“To me it’s real simple—love them and treat them with respect. Make sure they look as nice and neat and clean as they did when they came in the door.”
For Mikki, it’s a matter of not looking the other way when something is wrong. If you see someone sad, go whisper in their ear and give them a hug. Touch is powerful and it doesn’t take the world to comfort someone.
“When you do see wrong, you don’t look the other way. Think, ‘How can I make that a little bit better without tweaking the whole world in there?’” Mikki challenges.
“One person can make a difference in the community. You never know the dynamics of the family when these people come in. No one knows what went on before and you don’t know why their kids don’t come. You just help them through this time the best that you can. I always tell my elders, ‘If you weren’t here and I didn’t come in, you would have never met me. I will be back, I just don’t know when, but I promise I’ll be back. It’ll just be a great surprise.’ And it makes them smile.”