I knew of the plans to dedicate the new Memory Care Center at the Mansion to the Army of Good, but I wasn’t prepared for the generous praise George Scala, co-director of the Mansion, showered on me and the work we have done.
He talked about how important the Army Of Good work was for the Mansion residents, how much good we had done, how many people we had helped. I was very happy that the Army Of Good got the recognition it deserves.
My first thought was that this attention was embarrassing, I am not ever comfortable being singled out in that way. My second thought was how great it was to be singled out in that way.
I am more grateful to George Scala than he should be to me. I’ve been to a lot of elder care facilities in my years working with therapy dogs, and I knew the Mansion was special the first time I walked in the door. For one thing, they welcomed me, a little wariness, which quickly evaporated, and an openness and warmth I had not encountered before.
There was a warmth and family feel about the place, the staff didn’t just pretend to care about the residents, they really do care about the residents.
There are very few Medicaid residences for the elderly in America, only two in all of upstate New York, which is vast. They depend on thin and outdated government subsidies which leave little room for comforts and luxuries.
From the first, my idea was to fill the holes, commit small acts of great kindness, make sure people were comfortable. And to make their voices heard to the world beyond. To show them they are not forgotten, although their lives can be hard, they have not been left behind. There are people out there who care about them.
I told George when we first met that one of my goals was to break through the HIPPA walls government has placed around the elderly, who are rarely seen or heard from outside of their new walls. It is so easy to drive by these institutions and never know about the lives inside. I told him opening up this world to people elsewhere was both radical and even revolutionary.
George let me go, made me feel welcome (I’ve been in so many places these past few years where I was most decidedly and painfully not welcome. To many, I was just another potential pain in the ass). We got careful permissions from everyone and started taking photos and writing about life inside of those walls.
I never imagined the Army Of Good, which evolved quickly once I started writing about the Mansion and the refugees. I have always believed people are good, but I had no idea how good. George listed some of the many things we have brought to the Mansion and its residents, and I was shocked when I thought about how much we had done.
The core idea worked. Once people met the residences, heard their voices and saw their faces and listened to their stories, they wanted to help. I believe we took these people out from behind the screen and showed their humanity and vulnerability to a distracted world.
George’s blessing and support sent all of this into motion, made it possible, your trust and generosity took it from there. The staff of the Mansion has become a kind of family for me, we have built an affection and trust that is powerful and enduring. And I have so much admiration for the good work they do. They ought to each make a million dollars a year, and in a just world they do.
The new memory unit is quite beautiful and thoughtfully designed for dementia patients. The Mansion is waiting for some final bureaucratic approval so they can open up. That will probably be in a couple of weeks.
I am already plotting how to get some paintings up on the walls. An angel from the Army of Good has already hired Marilyn Brooks, a local artist, to paint three landscapes which are already on the walls. They are lovely.
But there is a lot of bare space, and my mind went right to filling it.
I am going to ask the refugee artists in the Silverstein Art Brigade to create some drawings and sketches for the bare walls in the beautiful Memory Care rooms. That would be a beautiful joining of love and need.
Though my squirming, I am so grateful to George and to the good people reading this, who have sent me your checks and our Paypal donations.
You did this, I am just a vehicle for translating your great hearts into real life. Without you none of this – the clothes, toiletries, air conditioners, books, stories, underwear, bras, chairs, tables, gardens, puzzles and art supplies, bracelets and prizes would have been possible.
So the Activities Center at the Mansion is named in honor of you , and with gratitude and much appreciation. Appreciation is sometimes uncomfortable for me, but it is so much better than not being appreciated at all.