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Disabled, aged helping each other

November 06, 1999|By ANDREA ROWLAND

Jennifer Slifer slipped songbooks to the elderly residents gathered in a room at Ravenwood Lutheran Village's nursing care center in Hagerstown before taking a spot next to Ravenwood resident Robert Thomas.

Prepared to sing, Slifer paused as Thomas fumbled with the pages of his songbook.

"Need help?" the developmentally disabled woman asked the 80-year-old stroke victim.

Poised at the arm of his wheelchair, Slifer gently turned Thomas' book to the correct page.

"She's a big help," Thomas said. "And when you only got one arm, you need some help."

Slifer and other clients from the Washington County Association of Retarded Citizens' employment training center have worked closely with Ravenwood residents during song and exercise sessions twice weekly for nearly four years.

Relationships built upon trust have prospered since the program started, said Thelma Myers, volunteer services coordinator.

"I wanted you to be close but I didn't want you to sit on top of me," Ravenwood resident Doris Ridenour joked to ARC client Mary Fiegley, who attempted to maneuver her wheelchair into a tight spot next to Ridenour.

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The two held hands.

"I like 'em all," said Ridenour, 98. "We've made good friends. One little girl isn't here today, and I really like her."

The partnership enables both groups to keep in touch with the community, said Abby Housel, activities coordinator at Ravenwood.

It also builds valuable job skills for ARC clients, said Marie Ebersole, Job Club training assistant for ARC.

Ravenwood Lutheran Village is one of several volunteer sites designed to give ARC job training clients a taste of different work environments, Ebersole said.

Several of the disabled persons helping residents at Ravenwood already have jobs but need work on skills such as communication, while others without current employment benefit by building skills needed to acquire jobs, Ebersole said.

At the Ravenwood site, ARC clients "learn to work closely with people," she said.

They help transport participating Ravenwood residents from their rooms to the activity center, distribute songbooks, turn pages and perform exercises.

"We old folks have to get limbered up," said Ravenwood resident Frances Routzahn, 82. "I think a lot of us look forward to it."

And the ARC clients relish their parts in the program, Myers said.

"You can tell they enjoy themselves," she said. "They get real enthusiastic."

Terry Hall, sporting a LeeAnn Rimes T-shirt, conducted musical selections with his index finger, while ARC peers Wendy Foltz and Jennifer Kalback gave energetic demonstrations of various exercises.

The voice of ARC client Philip Hare, who has helped at Ravenwood since the program began, was heard above all others during the sing-along.

In addition to stretching vocals and various muscle groups, the partnership gives participants' funny bones a good workout.

Slifer cracked herself and her audience up when she made the perfect "puppy dog face" during the facial exercise portion of the program. Thomas prompted giggles when he wheeled himself directly behind Housel as she led the group with forward leg kicks.

"It's a good thing I've got eyes in back of my head," Housel joked.

Even Ginger, the in-house golden retriever, provoked more than a few smiles as she circled the group, licking shoestrings and stealing tissues.

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