Sister’s legacy lives on through volunteer group

Date Published: 
January 10, 2014

Even during her toughest times, Ocean View resident Sue Parr loved volunteering at a Long Neck nursing home. It pulled her from the lows of vision impairment and supported her through chemotherapy. Today, it keeps her memory alive, as her sister and friends pay the ultimate tribute to Parr’s memory: they’ve kept right on volunteering.

Coastal Point • Laura Walter: These student volunteers from the Howard T. Ennis School are just some of the many groups involved with ‘Team Sue,’ a group dedicated to serving nursing home seniors. Here, students smile after handing out gifts and homemade desserts.Coastal Point • Laura Walter: These student volunteers from the Howard T. Ennis School are just some of the many groups involved with ‘Team Sue,’ a group dedicated to serving nursing home seniors. Here, students smile after handing out gifts and homemade desserts.Cora Burgan and several others followed Parr’s path to Delaware Health & Social Services, helping at Cadia Rehabilitation Renaissance nursing center (formerly Lewes Convalescent Center).

“I keep doing this in memory of my sister, because I know how much I get out of that, and … it has helped me through some hard times,” Burgan said. “We all loved doing it together. … Every time I think about my sister, it just touches my heart to know I can carry this on in her name.”

After 42 years as a nurse, Parr lost her eyesight just after moving to the shore. To save her from depression, DHSS suggested she get involved. And, boy, did she ever.

Parr volunteered for 10 years and shared her passion with others. Invited to speak at several nearby churches, she won people to the cause.

“And people still call and ask if ‘we can join and what we [can do] to continue this volunteering,’” Burgan said.

When Jane McLaren once offered to drive Parr, she didn’t realize the visually impaired woman would need a guide around the nursing home. But the two retired nurses “clicked,” and McLaren has helped ever since.

“I didn’t just do it for the residents. I did it for Sue, as well. She was just determined,” McLaren said. “Sue and Cora are some of the most giving people you’ll ever meet.”

When Parr was diagnosed with cancer, “Sue would schedule blood transfusions around this,” Eul Lee said.

“When she was here, her face lit up,” Burgan said. “I’m telling ya — Sue’s up there pushing all this.”

Today, individuals, churches and businesses contribute to the weekly distribution of cards and semi-annual parties. Nicknamed “Team Sue,” the group keeps growing.

“It’s amazing — when the community finds out about it, they come to [Cora]. She doesn’t have to go to them,” said Karen Lazar, ombudsman from the DHSS Secretary’s Office. “She’s such an inspiration and good example of what volunteerism is. They observe her, and they want to do it.”

In one week, volunteers handed out 250 holiday cards that people had made or written.

“It’s just phenomenal. They just keep on expanding,” Lazar said. “Residents look forward to a visit from Miss Cora!”

The holiday party “makes the residents feel really important. They have people come visit and eat good food,” said Emily McIssac, Renaissance activity director.

“It reminds them of Christmas past,” said Sue Shevlin, Renaissance administrator. “It’s good to see others from the community brighten their day. …We are a thriving community that loves to open its doors.”

Even the Howard T. Ennis School (for children with specialized education needs) makes the magic happen. Dawn Ciccanti’s cooking class practiced their skills to prepare pumpkin rolls and cupcakes.

Ciccanti had heard how even a simple card can delight residents, and she wanted to involve her students. Now, students actually serve dessert in the home.

“It’s very powerful to see the smiles they bring to some [residents],” Ciccanti said. “Our students are now able to make the connection and see how their efforts can truly make someone’s day.”

Student Sasha Hudson’s favorite part is handing out gifts that they helped purchase. Former student Ryan Greene played Santa to deliver candy canes and hugs.

“I love anything like this. It gets us all together,” said resident Catherine Casey. “And I think it’s nice they get us all together.”

“It’s [something] to do. It breaks up the monotony,” said Donna Waller, president of the resident council, who said “a little of everything” makes the day special.

Every Sunday, Lee brings Bible verse and hymns to the residents. She was delighted at the Christmas party to learn that two churches may help offer communion.

The old hymns, she said, especially help Alzheimer’s patients who suddenly remember the lyrics, or to say “Amen” during communion.

Lee originally wanted to visit “people who don’t have visitors or anybody. … When I see the residents with smiles on their face, that’s a joy.”

Nowadays, friends and neighbors bake desserts, Ocean View Presbyterian Church knits lap robes, Long Neck Diner donates dessert, Patti’s Hallmark Shop sends gifts, Beth Rogers at Country Wicker brings gifts and serves residents herself and her daughter, Olivia, is the youngest volunteer, having solicited her classmates to create cards and pictures.

Meanwhile, specific church groups have gotten involved, including Mariner’s Bethel United Methodist Church’s Rock of Ages. The Renaissance halls rang with live holiday music by Mariner’s pianist Ruth Davis, a Renaissance party regular. She said she likes to “get people upbeat and make them happy,” but the best part is talking to people who have many stories to tell.

“We’re just always glad to have volunteers,” Davis said. “We welcome anybody that feels that calling to come out.”

Even the staff sees the value.

“These are our residents, and some of them don’t have families here on a regular basis,” said nurse Jermel Vanderhorst. “It’s very special, just enlightening what they do.”

He encourages people to get involved.

“If you have the time, get in contact with [them]. It means a lot to residents and to staff.”

“If they don’t know what to do with themselves, it’s a great place,” said McLaren. “They get more than they give.”

To volunteer, contact DHSS at www.dhss.delaware.gov/dhss/dsaapd/volopp.html or contact Cadia Rehabilitation Renaissance at (302) 947-4200.