“Statistics show a resident of a care center will get a visitor once a month (outside of family if family is involved). I know this to be true because in my years I have seen it — and sad to say, but I have also seen a person ‘put’ in a care center and no family around. The residents of care centers are still people and in the eyes of God important, special, and loved. Why should we forget them?”
These are some of the words from the heart of deaconess Ruth Ann Shimoi. And this is part of why she does what she does with Lutheran Ministry Services Northwest. As the care center coordinator for LMSN, she helps bring Jesus to residents through efforts such as worship services, special holiday celebrations, hymn singing and prayer times, and much more. LMSN’s Care Center Ministry gives those within nursing homes and care centers the reminder that they are not alone and are within the embrace of God’s grace.
“My title is Care Center Volunteer Coordinator. This means I work with the volunteers to encourage and to check in with them (this was more so before the pandemic). Now I am reaching out to regrow the volunteer base as care centers are opening up and calling me asking for LMSN to return or to start a service,” she said. “LMSN volunteers go in with no agenda but to share the love of Jesus. This love of Jesus is what so many residents remember.”
Shimoi said that with the beginning of LMSN, care center outreach and ministry has been forefront. The number of Care Centers being serviced was up in the thirties by three chaplains and the many volunteers there were. That was the “heyday.” As the chaplains and volunteers aged and died, fewer care centers were being served — yet the ministry continued.
“I came on as a stipend-paid volunteer in 1980. When I told my parents I was going to be a deaconess, I also stated I was not going to do nursing homes. You see how that turned out! I became the lead in 1990 or so because of the wonderful teachers I had before me and the years now behind me in this area of LMSN ministry,” she said.
One opportunity Shimoi is highlighting today is the Adopt A Care Center program. “This program is available for the whole of the Northwest District,” she said. “Those of us on the staff and team are willing to go ‘wherever and whenever’ a congregation might express an interest in knowing and learning more about the program.”
“The Adopt A Care Center program is a program to encourage a church and the members to ‘adopt’ a care center in the area of the church. The members would be encouraged to meet the volunteer coordinator and/or the life enrichment director for introducing themselves. The members would learn the needs of the facility and the residents who live there – thus, starting a worship service, hymn sing, prayer time, supply birthday party supplies for the monthly party, assist with activities throughout the month, and perhaps get to know residents for one-on-one visits. LMSN would provide training to ease the unknown and How To’s of going into a care center.”
There are always many other ways congregations can get involved with care center ministry outreach. These include special events and celebrations on holidays such as Halloween, Christmas, and 4th of July. But really, at the end of the day, it’s about extending love to those who may otherwise not regularly experience it.
Shimoi said this is an amazing way to serve, with deep rewards. She shared that some of those special moments include “seeing the faces of the residents when a familiar song is sung, saying the Lord’s prayer when a resident appears to have been sleeping until then, being surprised (which I no longer should be) when a resident will finish a Bible passage I started… a smile on a face when a ‘simple’ card has been given to them. I could go on.”