Sunrise Volunteers: The Redcoats provide an extra hand to elderly

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Recruitment underway at Sunrise Manor Nursing Home

By Ron Benningfield

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You might have noticed a group of people, conspicuous in their bright red coats, attending a funeral service, or perhaps have seen them helping residents at Sunrise Manor Nursing Home in Hodgenville.

They are Sunrise Manor volunteers who are dedicated to their mission of providing aid, comfort, joy and understanding to residents and their families, and to lending a helping hand to the nursing home staff.

The group is the brainchild of Reverend R. Stanley Wright, Jr., former pastor of First Christian Church of Hodgenville, and Ray Morris, Hodgenville businessman, and longtime friend of Sunrise Manor.

The two men thought volunteers could be an agent through which the needs of the residents could be enhanced. They and a committee of 12 others - Hilda Harned, Clotilde Smith, Helen Hubbard, Nancy Goodin, Martha Katherine Hamilton, Dorothy Dean Smith, Hollis Williams, Virginia Marcum, Gus Thurman, Rita Smith, Wilma Atherton, and Lynn Claycomb - developed the structure for the organization. 

Penny Ovesen accepted the title of volunteer director that first year.

“When Stan Wright approached me, wanting me to help out, I was a little reluctant at first,” Ovesen said. “I had just retired and had told myself I was going to learn to say no to being so busy and to enjoy my retirement.”

But after a persuasive call from Harned, Ovesen decided to give it a try.

“And you know what? That was the most rewarding thing I have done in my life,” she said.

Ovesen believes the idea for the distinguishing red coat came from a Hardin Memorial Hospital volunteer whose organization wears pink smocks.

“She said those coats would give us an identity that we are volunteers who are here to serve the needs of the residents, and she was so right,” said Ovesen.

She recalled one morning while she was wearing her red coat at her table in the lobby, an elderly female resident rolled her wheelchair beside her and gently started rubbing the sleeve of the red coat between her thumb and forefinger.

“They tell me you people who wear these red coats can do things for us and it won’t cost us any money,” Ovesen remembered the aged resident saying to her.

“That just broke my heart,” Ovesen said. “I told her she was right.”

Rita Smith, current volunteer president and charter member, recalled the group wanted a color for their smocks that would be bright and cheery, but not the pink worn by the HMH staff.

“We came up with these red coats, and that’s what the residents have named us,” she said. 

“When they see the Redcoats coming, their faces light up,” she continued. “So many of them don’t have family or visitors and they so much look forward to the volunteers’ visits.”

Since the group formed in 1981, the volunteers have grown to about 57 active adults and teenagers who work closely with activities director Kathy Cooper and assistant director Judy Hensley.

“We’re here to bring joy and enrichment into the residents’ lives, and to give those residents, especially those with no family, someone to talk to and to enjoy activities with,” said Julie Kessinger, a volunteer since 2002 and who, with LaDean Self, serves on the ways and means committee.

Self, a volunteer since 1982, said pushing residents in their wheelchairs to different activities is another important function.

“The staff doesn’t have time to wheel all the residents in and out, and that’s where we come in to help out,” she said.

Volunteers also provide entertainment for residents. One of the most popular activities is Wednesday Rhythm Band in which the volunteers sing Southern Gospel hymns, usually to a packed chapel of residents.

“Religious programs are a big part of their lives,” added Kessinger. Several churches, individuals, and groups provide music or religious services and the volunteers help transport residents to and from the functions.

Other volunteer services include help in the dining room during meals, assisting with games such as bingo, and also spending time visiting, talking, and listening to residents.

They also sponsor fundraisers and provide gifts for residents. Last year at Christmas, the volunteers paid for a sweatshirt for each resident.

“Volunteers are actively trying to make Sunrise Manor ever better,” said Self. “We paid for a courtyard where residents can enjoy the sunshine on pretty days; we’ve bought games for the activities department, lift chairs for adult daycare, wheel chairs for residents, bath robes, physical therapy equipment, even paid for piano tunings.”