By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Havre students have taken two of 13 community service awards given annually by a Montana health care association that serves more than 80 long-term care facilities in the state.
A local nurse and a retired adult volunteer from Havre also were recognized.
Last year's six fifth-grade classes from Sunnyside Intermediate School were named the Montana Health Care Association group volunteer of the year for their service at Havre's Northern Montana Care Center, where they read to residents, shared musical programs, gave Christmas gifts and made decorations for various holidays throughout the year. About 145 fifth-graders and six teachers participated for a total of more than 5,700 hours, according to the nomination form.
Jenna Erhard, a Havre High School alumna and freshman at Montana State University-Northern, was named the association's young adult volunteer of the year for helping institute and lead a three-day-a-week exercise program for care center residents from January to June last year. Erhard also worked with a physical therapist at the center two days a week.
"It has made our residents feel wonderful to know that there are young people that care about them," care center activity coordinator Ila McClenahan said Wednesday after the award ceremony.
Care center employee Carol Johnson was named nurse of the year, and longtime care center volunteer Joyce Warp was nominated for adult volunteer of the year and received an honorable mention.
The care center made its nominations in August. The association named its volunteers of the year at its annual conference in Billings last week. The awards were presented Wednesday at the Northern Montana Care Center.
Erhard's work at the center was part of Havre Public Schools' Credit for Work program, which allows HHS students to use one class for one semester to participate in an internship of their choice. Erhard wanted to study physical therapy.
After her internship ended in May, Erhard continued to lead the exercise program, Movin' and Groovin', into June, and helped train someone to continue the program.
"I was shocked" to be chosen for the award, Erhard said. "I did not expect this at all."
Erhard had planned to attend school at MSU-Bozeman this fall, but decided to stay in Havre for her general education requirements. She said her summer job prevented her from continuing to help at the care center, but that now she wants to begin volunteering there again.
"It was just so warm when I came up here, and it was just kind of a nice place to be," Erhard said.
Carol Johnson started as a nurse at Northern Montana Hospital in 1973 and began working at the care center in 1998.
"I love nursing, I do. And I love these people," she said after receiving her award as nurse of the year.
Some of the residents she cares for now were her supervisers at the hospital years ago and mentored her, she said.
Marilyn Granell, one of last year's fifth-grade teachers, received the award on behalf of the teachers and students Wednesday.
Granell first began bringing fifth-grade students to the care center to volunteer in 1997, McClenahan said.
Granell said last week that every class visited the care center at least one day during the year. Throughout the year students collected Christmas gifts of things listed on residents' wish lists, and made holiday cards, table decorations and Mother's Day bouquets, as well as reading to residents.
She said she was "extremely proud" of the award.
"I personally think school is more than learning to read and write and do math," she said, adding that some of the students formed "some really neat relationships with the residents."
Granell is teaching third grade this year.
McClenahan said the reading program helps the students improve their reading, and that, in turn, helps fulfill care center residents' need to feel they make a difference to others.
"These people have given of themselves throughout their lives," McClenahan said. "... My challenge as an activities coordinator is to find things where they can still be useful."
Another result of the children's efforts, she said, is that it makes them more likely to come back.
"Once they come to the care center ... it's much easier for them to come and participate in other programs throughout their lives," and also makes them more likely to join health care-related professions, she said.
This year's fifth-graders will make their first trips to the center on Oct. 10 and 24, to read to the residents.
Center resident Ruby Sudan, 93, said she enjoys the exercise program, which is still going on at the care center, and that she had a fifth-grade student read to her once. Her poor eyesight keeps her from being able to read the calendar to find out when the children will be coming, although a nurse will tell her if she asks.
At least one of the students' activities doesn't require eyesight to detect. Every December, the halls are decked with student-made gingerbread houses, in what has become a sweet-smelling tradition at the care center.
Students make more than 40 graham-cracker houses and slather them with frosting, and residents judge the winners.