January 8, 2011 10:40:00 PM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
In a spacious room luminous with winter sunlight, Theresa Gandy concentrates on a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle.
"It''s flowers," she smiles, pressing another piece in place, bringing the floral profusion closer to completion. "I really enjoy doing the puzzles; it''s a hobby I picked up here," she shares in friendly chat.
"Here" is Brighter Days, a day-time home-away-from-home for those 50 and older, who benefit from programs with a focus on mental wellness.
The division of Community Counseling Services is located at the juncture of Seventh Street and Fourth Avenue North in Columbus and enters the new year with an expanded space that balloons its client capacity from 16 to 32.
In 2004, the first facility (dubbed Brighter Days I) opened in a remodeled house on the site. A second house, located on the corner lot, has now been joined to the original via a wide corridor, more than doubling the program''s square footage.
The expansion began accepting clients -- or members -- in late June and is called Brighter Days III. (The name Brighter Days II was already being used by a program in Louisville.)
Janie Harris of Crawford is the program manager for the new Brighter Days III.
"We focus on brain and body function, keeping everyone active," she said, conducting a tour of the newest section, with its large dining room, kitchen, a sunroom, a library stocked with paperbacks and magazines, and a screened-in sun porch.
An activity room resembling a oversized family den is filled with tables for group activities, including puzzles and crafts. There''s also a cozy, nicely furnished room used for nurses'' evaluations, and a serenity room.
"Some of our people who come here may not be used to a lot of people, and they sometimes like to come here and sit," Harris said of the tranquil space furnished with upholstered settees.
Throughout, walls of cheerful yellow or seafoam green are punctuated with plenty of large windows, bringing in sunlight. In the sunroom, a wall of windows closely borders a wooded space, bringing the great outdoors inside.
From 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. each weekday at Brighter Days, the focus is on social interaction, stimulating thought and activities within a member''s comfort zone.
"This program is about them; our job is to enhance their day, to exercise mind and memory," stated Harris, who has been with Community Counseling for 16 years.
"Sometimes people who come here are accustomed to others telling them what they should wear, what they should eat, where they should go. So we try to let them think for themselves, to design ideas," she added. Some participants, for instance, may opt to hear a devotional, while others might choose to work on a crossword puzzle, or craft.
"They''re doing different activities, but are still part of a group," said the program manager.
A good start
Days begin with a discussion topic. Current and community events are covered, too.
Games like bingo, checkers, Scrabble and Wheel of Fortune are rotated on the daily schedule, as are arts and crafts and outings to destinations like the Columbus Riverwalk, Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle''s walking track, flea markets, the arts center and the library. There''s also a monthly birthday party, something some clients, especially those with no nearby relatives, seldom have.
Exercise is on the daily agenda.
"Oh, we do it every day; I demonstrate every exercise standing and sitting, so everyone is comfortable," said Harris. "Since we''ve been exercising, we''ve been getting more stable medical reports from doctors about things like blood pressure and diabetes."
At the opposite end of the connecting corridor, in Brighter Days I, Program Manager Steven Garner sat at a dining table and talked about what his work means to him.
"A lot of these folks, they do for everyone else. And some don''t have anybody outside the program. It''s really a joy to try to do something to help them," he stressed. "The elderly really need advocates. We try to do that for our folks."
Program participant Patty Williamson of Caledonia comes into the room and slowly circles the table, cleaning it with a damp rag. For her, coming to Brighter Days motivates her to keep moving, in spite of painful arthritis.
"I try to push myself ... This gets me out of the house and gives me something to do," she shared.
"We''re all each other''s support group," Garner said, giving her an encouraging smile.
Garner and Harris agree, the rewards are tangible.
Harris said, "The biggest benefit I''ve seen is the independence -- a decrease in withdrawal and the increase in self-esteem and self-confidence."
"It''s not magic, what we do," smiled Garner, "but to see someone blossom from a person who mumbles and keeps to themselves into an engaged participant is a joy."
Theresa Gandy, working at her puzzle in Brighter Days III, summed it up.
"I just can''t wait for the next day to come here," she smiled "It''s just a very spirit-uplifting place."
Editor''s note: For more information about the Brighter Days program, or to tour the facility, contact Steven Garner or Janie Harris at 662-244-8988.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.