Our arrival on Columbus marked a halfway point in Ohio. It is also the last city that we have a lot of friends in – from there West, things will get less and less familiar. Thankfully, we were able to stay with Amber – one of our all-time favorite peoples.
We spent Monday taking a day off – no visits, no mile-making. So many of our days off as of late have been full of tasks and to-do lists, and it was due time for a day of watching movies and eating food on a futon that we used to own. We even got to visit with Kyle, Hank, and Aaron – good friends from our dorm days at Ohio University. Kyle cooked us a delicious dinner! He’s a really nice guy. We caught up over beer and guitars on the front porch.
On Tuesday, we got back to work and made some therapy visits around Columbus. After dropping Amber off at work, we borrowed her car and drove to our first stop – The Heinzerling Foundation. Heinzerling is a residential and educational facility for individuals with severe or profound developmental disabilities. They provide nursing care, education, and a loving and nurturing environment.
We checked in with Midge Dunaway, the volunteer coordinator. She has been working at Heinzerling for 20 years and is clearly very passionate about the work that they do. While we checked in, she explained that many of their residents were gone for the day to off-site schools. The residents whom we would be visiting with were not able to leave and attend school because of the severity of their disabilities.
Midge led us through Heinzerling’s different residential blocks, introducing us to residents one-by-one. To an outsider, it was hard to read the emotions of many of the residents. Midge clearly knows her residents, and she was able to tell us who would want to meet the dogs, how they reacted, and whether they were comfortable. Some residents were reclined on padded mats around their common rooms, while others were in motorized chairs. Max climbed up on the mats with several people, and though they could not speak in a way that I could understand, it was clear from their smiles that the dogs made quite an impact.
In one room, Grace met a girl named Rachel. Sitting on the floor, Rachel moved her hands obsessively and interacted with the world with some force. When Grace came near, she tightly grabbed her foot and leg and started to squeeze and knead her. Her attendant, Betsy pulled her loose, afraid that she would hurt Grace. Betsy sat on the floor with Rachel, and with her gaze never leaving Rachel’s face, slowly showed her how to pet Grace gently. Rachel watched, rocking and flexing her fingers in the air. She lunged to grab again, but Betsy caught her and held her hands. Rachel grabbed onto Betsy’s arm, kneading and twisting with her strong hands. It must have taken a lot of trust for Betsy to let Rachel grab on so tightly. As she held onto Betsy’s arm, Betsy slowly reached down and petted Grace. It was almost as if Rachel could feel the change in Betsy when she touched Grace’s fur, and she smiled and laughed a quiet laugh while Betsy ran her hand down Grace’s back. It was powerful to see how they worked together. As Betsy pet Grace for Rachel, I saw a tatoo on her wrist that read, “Never Give Up.”
We continued visiting patients and residents for a few hours before working our way back to the front desk. It was humbling to see how dedicated the staff is to the care and enrichment of their residents. Despite the fact that almost none of the residents could communicate with us verbally, we were able to energize one another thanks to the universal appeal of the dogs. It was a challenging – but very inspiring – visit.
We left Heinzlinger and grabbed some food at Little Palace, where Amber works, before heading on to our next visit.
With our bellies full and dogs tired from our first visit, we went to the Columbus Ronald McDonald house. We used to visit the RMH in Louisville every week, and it was nice to see another house for a change.
RMH provides an affordable place to stay for families dealing with medical emergenices. Often, they have to stay for long periods of time while their children undergo treatments in the nearby children’s hospital. We hung out in the lobby for prime dinner hours, when a lot of residents come back from the hospitals for a hot meal.
The Columbus RMH offers their residents a hot meal every day. Volunteer come in and provide dinner free of charge. Traveling the road this way has helped me to understand the simple and profound effect that a hot and ready meal can have on one’s peace of mind. My heart goes out to the volunteers who make that possible – you have no idea how much good you are doing just by feeding people who are struggling.
Finally, we were worn out and had to leave to try and get back to Amber’s before the rain started up. We left and started to walk back, racing the weather as the sky turned darker and the wind picked up. We made it back in time, and ordered an amazing pizza. The next morning, we had to leave the comfort of Amber’s hospitality. we thanked Amber for her unyielding dedication to our friendship. Packed up and rejuvenated (sort of) we began walking West, toward Yellow Springs, Ohio.