By Caroline Franks
She smiled and reached up to touch his little foot.
“What’s his name?” said one of the residents that gathered together in a circle in the common room at The Salvation Army Grace Manor one afternoon.
Once a month, a group of volunteer mothers and their babies come to visit the residents at the long-term care home in the Ottawa neighbourhood of Hintonburgh. The mothers in the program make a total of 60 visits a month for 2 hours each to over 40 different homes and day programs for seniors around Ottawa every month.
Jessica Turner started the program called “Baby Days” in March of 2018 after she took her daughter Amelia to visit her friend’s mother at a senior’s home. The lady suffers from Alzheimer’s and was often upset, agitated and confused.
The first visit was very successful. Jessica’s friend expressed that her mother didn’t often remember her own visits but she remembered the visit from Jessica and Amelia. Jessica returned several times visiting with many of the seniors.
“I shared her with everyone. The moment that most impacted me was that there was a senior sitting with her daughter and when I put Amelia in her lap the lady started singing despite not having spoken in years,” said Jessica.
Jessica started a Facebook group called “Babies Who Volunteer” for volunteer moms that wanted to visit seniors’ homes and there are now over 1600 members.
Bethany Hambrey is the Activities Assistant at Grace Manor. “We are so grateful to these volunteer mothers who come to visit. It makes such an impact on our residents,” she said. “For many of our residents, raising children was a significant part of their life and many don’t get to interact with babies anymore.”
Bethany explains that when the children visit some of the residents who are often passive or non-communicative suddenly sit up in their chair and reach for the babies.
“You can see them light up and become engaged and excited,” she said.
The room that afternoon at Grace Manor was filled with both male and female residents excited to see the children playing.
“We see the joy in their faces,” said Bethany. “There is a beautiful connection that takes place with residents who are not usually conversational. Many of the residents remember raising children, even when their short-term memory is not as strong.”
“The program has really caught on. It’s good for the moms too,” said Jessica. “They get the opportunity to go out into the community and it makes them feel good to be helping out.”
“I also think it’s beneficial for children to have access and be exposed to seniors and people with disabilities so they can learn from them and better understand them,” said Bethany. “It’s a new way of thinking about the lifestyle of our residents in that we can help them feel connected to the community.”
Throughout the visit Bethany attended to the residents and helped them get settled into the circle.
“The residents have been quite consistent in wanting to attend,” said Bethany. “Our staff members are also drawn to the visit. They occasionally stop in the doorway to watch a baby being held by a resident. You can see a mutual affection between them. It’s really beautiful.”