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Extra care for the holidays

By ANDREA FURLONG

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A Highland Ridge care center resident shakes the hand of Santa during the Ridge’s annual holiday banquet last January. Highland Ridge offers many activities to its residents during the holidays — a time that can be hard for nursing home residents without family.

For many people, Christmas has come and gone, but at Highland Ridge, Williamsburg, the holiday has yet to occur.

The independent living facility and care center celebrates Christmas two weekends in January, one weekend at the main facility and one at the care center. Knowing that holidays can be hard for residents who are homesick or without family, Highland Ridge takes many steps to keep the season festive and homey for its 163 residents.

Throughout the month of December, the halls of Highland Ridge are filled with Christmas music. Each year, residents are visited by student carolers from three local schools, as well as several youth and adult church choirs. The Ridge also offers weekly Christmas sing-a-longs.

Holiday memories are relived through the showing of Christmas classics like “Miracle on 34th Street,” “White Christmas” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.” And, new traditions are born, like the opportunity for every resident to bake his or her own gingerbread house.

“We do a lot of holiday baking and frosting cookies, those kind of things,” said recreation director Julie Wardenburg.

In all, it’s a “very, very busy month,” according to Wardenburg.

“We try to scatter things out, so they have something very different every night, every week,” she said.

The end of the celebration culminates with a holiday banquet (one for the main facility and one at the care center) and visits from Santa in January. For the 43 care center residents, Santa not only stops by to say “hello,” but also hands out a gift to each resident that is handpicked and purchased by a Highland Ridge employee.

“All the staff loves to help out and buy a gift for someone. They know the residents really well and what they need or what they want,” Wardenburg said.

The care that goes into planning Christmas events and holiday gifts at nursing homes is important, Wardenburg said, because for some residents, Christmas can be a lonely time.

“You try to do everything you can to make it a very special day for them, because some residents don’t have any family that are close by or don’t hear from them, so it can be a hard time for them. We try to make it extra special and spend some more quality time with them,” she said.

Phyllis Hall, a five-year resident at the Ridge, noted that while the Highland Ridge setting does not exactly resemble the large farmhouse her family used to celebrate Christmas in, the staff and facility have allowed her to relish in some of the comforts of home, including baking her own holiday dishes and celebrating her family Christmas in a private room larger than her apartment.

“They go to great depths to make things nice here for us,” Hall said.

That personal effort to keep Christmas merry and many holiday traditions intact is a difficult thing to do, but a goal that Highland Ridge aims for every year, Wardenburg said.

“We try to make it as special as we can and just have a lot of different activities and events going on, but not too busy where we get tired,” she said.

SHOWING YOU CARE

Highland Ridge will hold its annual holiday banquet Saturday, Jan. 9, at the care center, and Saturday, Jan. 16, at the main facility. For times call (319) 668-3800. For families who are unable to be with loved ones at the center during the holidays, Wardenburg recommends calling them or sending a gift or card to let them know they’re in your thoughts.

UPDATED December 30, 2009 11:43 AM

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