Co-founders, Sharron Brandrup and Marge Utne, joined me in my passion, and we created a nonprofit organization, whose mission is to enhance the lives of nursing home elders and to bring generations together in mutually rewarding relationships through honoring the human spirit and by providing life-enriching volunteer opportunities for youth groups, families, individuals, businesses and civic organizations.
Youth and adult volunteers receive our training, which provides education and communication skills that enable them to have meaningful interaction with elders of all levels of cognitive functioning, including those with advanced Alzheimer’s Diseases. All our programs are of the highest quality and integrity, with group visits being organized and structured to provide the fertile ground for the cultivation of beautiful relationships between the elders and our volunteers of all ages.
Our largest number of volunteers is that of youth participants, from preschool to high school and college. A very high percentage of our youth come from “at-risk youth” organizations and residential treatment centers for troubled teens. Respect, compassion and the art of listening are alive and well in the intergenerational work of Bessie’s Hope. The at-risk youth, like the elders, need to feel valued and needed. Through participation in Bessie’s Hope, both age groups receive the recognition of their value. Both populations also experience a sense of purpose. Our goal is to have affiliates in other states. Bessie’s Hope is the only organization with the focus that directly impacts this statistic. My “song” continues to be embellished by the melodies of elders. My life continues to be blessed by the presence of elders.
Rewinding 68 years, my mother married right after high school, and a year later, learning he was going to be a dad, my Marine father decided that was not for him and left to go back to active duty. Throughout my formative years, it was as though I had two mothers, thus, the very close relationship with my grandmother. Fond early memories include being on the next door neighbors’ porch, where the elders played dominoes, talking to my great-grandmother, and church on Sundays, where elder women were my teachers.
While in high school, I began singing and playing musical instruments professionally in a band that performed in Texas and neighboring states. That continued through college, earning my Music Education Degree, then—“on the road.” For over 25 years, I made my living as a professional musician, performing with bands and duos and as a piano bar entertainer at reknowned venues, such as The Stockyard Restaurant in Nashville and Pat O’Brien’s in New Orleans. I also added traveling throughout the country to present “Healing with Sound and Music” workshops.
Performing, composing, studying, teaching---life was all about music--- yet, there were always elders and nursing homes beckoning, as part of my “song.” Wherever I was, I volunteered as a musician in nursing homes, and I inquired to find an elder who had no visitors, so I could “adopt” this person. This was a precursor to one of the volunteer programs of Bessie’s Hope.
While finishing another degree in music to earn the credentials, Board Certified Music Therapist, my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. This “pulled” me into a special focus with this population within my music therapy studies. This special focus also exists within the work of Bessie’s Hope. Educating volunteers about this disease and assisting them in feeling comfortable and confident in relating to those who have the disease is a priority within Bessie’s Hope.
Then, while working on a Master of Humanities Degree, my grandmother had to be admitted to a Texas nursing home. One day, a very clear, yet inaudible voice began repeating, “Bring them together—the young and the old.” During this mandate from God, I could see our work unfold in my mind’s eye.
My master’s thesis was a musical, for which I was writing the script, the music and the orchestration. Asking the committee for special permission, my Bessie’s Hope co-founder, Sharron, became co-writer of the musical, because the script and songs were about the work we had been doing. The musical is about a group of children who become friends with a group of nursing home elders… art imitating life. It has been produced only twice for three-week runs, but all audiences were captivated and moved to spontaneous standing ovations after each performance. It is still very timely, and I hope that it will soon have a life of its own.
My “song” has always been embellished by the melodies of elders. My life continues to be blessed by the presence of elders. I was thrilled to learn of the course of study to earn the CSA certification. It provided so much information, and it has enabled me to assist elders and family members of elders in life-changing decisions. I’ve been able to share the information with my own family and close friends. “CSA” fits so well with the Bessie’s Hope purpose of empowerment of the elders.
Although Bessie’s Hope serves a few thousand youth and elders each year, and has for 20 years, it has been such a well-kept secret. This makes fundraising difficult, because it is not a large, well-established nonprofit. If you would like to be on our “e-blast” and “e-newsletter” list, as well as on our mailing list, please contact us. On April 2, our first event for 2015 will be “An Evening of Music and Magic, a great event! This year, we will also have our 3rd annual motorcycle event, stopping at Denver nursing homes, where the elders get to take a spin. In the fall, is our 12th annual Intergenerational Bowl-a-thon, with bowlers from 2 to 102!
Do you want to be on a fun committee, a board member, volunteer in a program with the elders, or contribute financially?
Board Certified Clinical Chaplain, Board Certified Music Therapist, Certified Senior Advisor
Linda Holloway was the featured CSA Spotlight in the February 2015 Senior Spirit newsletter.
Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors