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Crooning, puppets, caring all part of hospital holiday party

December 26, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - This year's holiday party at Western Maryland Hospital Center in Hagerstown featured puppets, crooning and even closed-circuit TV.

The telecast - possible this year because of new equipment - brought the celebration to patients who couldn't leave their rooms, but could watch it on TV, said N. Linn Hendershot, the center's communications director.

The Muppet-like puppets were controlled by youths from Broadfording Christian Academy and Broadfording Bible Brethren Church, who hid behind curtains.

Their story about Christmas and Jesus Christ stopped for musical interludes. Alone or in twos, other children played the piano or the trumpet or sang carols, sometimes inviting the audience to sing along.

The spacious hospital center room that serves each year as the party hall was filled Friday afternoon with about 75 patients, employees, volunteers and family members. They snacked on cookies, cake, cheese and crackers.

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"It means a lot - caring, togetherness and a love that's special about this place," volunteer coordinator Sharron Silvers said of the party.

She said it took about two months to plan, largely because of the gifts to buy - more than 300 - and wish lists to compile.

Many Individuals Helping Individuals (MIHI) - a nonprofit advocacy group for people with disabilities - and St. John's Episcopal Church in Hagerstown raised "a couple thousand dollars" for the gifts, said Bill Beard, MIHI's executive director.

The organizations left the shopping to "Linn and his elves," Beard said.

Hendershot, chairman of the board of MIHI, told the crowd that the party, like much of the everyday work at the hospital center, serves a purpose.

"We refer to what we do here as part of the healing environment," he said.

During an opening prayer, the Rev. Bill Wyand of Broadfording Bible Brethren Church asked that the party "meet each need" and "lift our spirits."

The young puppeteers and musicians did their part, as did singer Bill Cosner.

As recorded versions of Christmas classics such as "Walking in a Winter Wonderland" played, Cosner strolled through the crowd, kneeling to shake people's hands or touch their shoulders.

He also walked around with mistletoe and urged certain spectators to kiss each other or accept a kiss from him, which they did.

When 2 p.m. hit, signifying the end of the party, Cosner promised one more tune: Elvis Presley's "Blue Christmas."

Children gathered for their own final number, "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," then fanned out to dispense candy canes and show hospital center residents their puppets.

Adult church members offered Christmas wishes to people in wheelchairs or beds, whether they had their eyes open or closed during the party.

Cosner, who lives in Falling Waters, W.Va., said afterward he has volunteered at Western Maryland Hospital Center for more than two years, often singing Southern gospel music as entertainment.

Asked how he started, he said, "I was just driving by and just felt a real strong conviction to come in."

The hospital center has a holiday party every year, but this was the first time it was on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas Day, Beard said.

The change allowed more people to volunteer to help, he said.

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