Arrow Calendar Location Icon Phone Icon Quotation Mark Signature Programs Tickets Checkmark Heart icon

In the News: Community brings Valentine’s Day to Brandywine residents

Senior Living Resident Female Holding Valentine Gift

Selbyville, DE / Coastal Point — They say it takes a village to raise a child. Sometimes, it also takes a village to raise the spirits of older folks, too.

Fortunately, as one local woman has found, the “village” surrounding Brandywine Living at Fenwick Island — an assisted-living residence near Selbyville — answered her call, for the second time in as many months, and brought smiles to the assisted living facility’s residents on Valentine’s Day.

Just after Christmas, Kathy Jacobs, who used to work at Brandywine and continues to “stay connected” with the place and its residents, put a message on social media asking for volunteers for a special project she had in mind: shopping for treats that would be distributed to 89 residents on Valentine’s Day.

Within an hour or two, all 89 names were spoken for by folks who stepped up to fill goody bags for them. So, on the morning of Feb. 14, a cart loaded front to back with bags of candy, stuffed animals and other small gifts made its way through Brandywine, delivering the surprise packages to residents. Although the volunteers weren’t able to deliver the gifts themselves, due to COVID-19-related restrictions on visitors, photos were taken of many of the residents showing big smiles behind the pink and red bags stuffed with goodies.

Jacobs said the effort had its roots in a care-package project last year that was part of National Assisted Living Week. Volunteers who participated in that wanted to do a similar thing at Christmas, she said.

“People were jazzed,” she said. “I figured, let’s keep this train rolling, because everyone’s loving it.”

She got a list of all the residents from Brandywine’s activities director, Heather Cronin, which included what kind of candy they like and whether they’re diabetic — important things to know when planning Valentine’s Day surprises.

“People really went all-out,” Jacobs said. “I love how they love it and how they rally around,” she said. “It fills Brandywine with lots of energy.”

That “energy” is much-needed at Brandywine and other similar facilities, where visitors have been almost non-existent for the past two years.

“They’ve been through so much with COVID,” Jacobs said.

Now that the love-train that Jacobs started is rolling, she said many of the volunteer shoppers have asked for the same residents each time a new holiday comes around. One of those volunteers is Cat Brown, who with her husband, Tim, has become linked through the program to a Brandywine resident she calls “Gramp Bill,” because his name is Bill, like her own “Gramp,” who is now gone.

Brown said this week that she felt drawn to the Brandywine project as soon as she heard about it.

“I got involved because my grandparents practically raised me, and because I thought it was so important to give back to the community, to the elderly especially,” she said.

“I took care of my 93-year-old great-grandmother when I was 23 years old,” Brown said of an experience that left her with a sense of how much older people have to offer. “Once I moved to Delaware, I felt like it was my calling just to help the elderly and those who have so much wisdom [who came] before us,” she said.

“The most important thing is just to put smiles on faces, especially those who don’t have family,” Brown said.

For Brown, who said she also volunteers to help the Believe in Tomorrow House — an Ocean City, Md., facility that allows terminally ill children to spend time at the beach — it’s all about bringing joy to others.

“Good vibes need to be brought to this universe, at this time especially,” she said. “All I wish is that I could put a smile on their faces 365 days a year.”

Of her own great-grandmother, she said, “She was a beautiful soul” who outlived five of her seven children.

As for “Gramp Bill” at Brandywine, Brown said she hopes to meet him in person someday, because, from what she’s heard, and from a video of him that Jacobs sent her, she gets the distinct feeling he’s the “Mack Daddy” of Brandywine. She said she could sense that from his demeanor, and from the fact that he said he would appreciate receiving some cologne as part of his Valentine’s goodies.

“It was the same as my Gramp,” she said. “I felt like he was really passionate about the way he presented himself.”

Kathy O’Donnell, who lives across Route 54 from Brandywine, in the Bayside community, said she was first connected to the facility when both her mother and her aunt lived there. Both have now passed, but her mother-in-law now lives there.

The care-package program started by Jacobs has given O’Donnell a way to stay connected to the residents, she said, adding that she has had a different person to shop for each time.

“It just fills their hearts with joy,” she said.

The fact that Valentine’s Day presents an opportunity to do something “just for fun,” O’Donnell said, helps the residents feel young again.

“I think they have a lot of kid left in them,” she said, and fun things like stuffed animals and small wind-up toys bring smiles, no matter the age of the recipient.

“It’s just a great, compassionate thing,” O’Donnell said.

She credited Jacobs with seeing the need for such outreach, particularly during the isolation brought on by the pandemic.

“It’s just a great, compassionate thing,” O’Donnell said — one she said she hopes will spread to other facilities, bring out more volunteer shoppers and make new connections throughout the community.

Cronin, Brandywine’s activities director, said Brandywine’s residents were “just blown out of the water that people from the community would be so generous.”

“They just felt so special,” she said, adding that she kept the scope of the Valentine’s Day project a secret from the residents. Cronin said the residents were particularly touched by the personal notes the volunteers put in with the gifts. Some talked about how they wanted to “adopt” their gift recipients as surrogate grandparents, and how they would love to meet them someday.

“One day,” Cronin said, “when I can have people come in the building,” she will make that happen.

View original article on Coastal Point