Children give the gift of open hearts

For Marie Hanusik, getting a Valentine’s card from local children made her feel special.

“We’re not always thought of,” Hanusik said.

The 89-year-old from Catskill was one of several Barnwell Nursing and Rehabilitation Center residents to receive valentines from local children for the love-themed holiday. Barnwell residents in Valatie were treated to some Valentine’s Day cheer Sunday with cards from a nearby church group.

“We appreciate it,” Hanusik said.

Ten students with the Mental Health Association of Columbia-Greene Counties’ Fourth and Sixth Grade Social Club at Ichabod Crane Central School District will be handing out valentines today.

“I am so proud of our students for showing the elderly in our community that we still love them and care about them and want to show them appreciation,” said Ichabod Elementary and Middle School Principal Tim Farley.

The students came up with the idea themselves, Roxane Carpenter, division director of Children and Family Services of the Mental Health Association of Columbia-Greene Counties, said. This is the second year the kids made valentines for the seniors.

“We try to do things with the kids where we talk about the kind of things they would like to do for community service,” Carpenter said. “It’s something they want to do again. They have received a really good response.

“At Christmas time, they did something similar where they took stuffed animals to the residents. One man said it was the only gift he had received since his wife had passed.”

Children who belong to the Father’s Promise Church’s Children of Promise ministry delivered over 220 hand-painted cards to Barnwell residents Sunday to wish residents a happy Valentine’s Day. The ministry’s young members delivered the cards with their parents and ministry leader Bonnie Drowne.

The group has been to Barnwell to sing Christmas carols, but it was the first time they were handing out cards to residents, Drowne said. She said it’s important to be active in the community.

“It will be a more frequent thing for us visiting Barnwell,” Drowne said. “We’re becoming more and more involved in the community as we grow.”

The youth ministry’s mission is about showing love to God, which can be done in the form of many gestures — handing out Valentine cards or smiling at someone, Drowne said.

“We want this to be a practical thing for them that they know that God’s love is real and something they can experience, not just hear about,” she said. “This month is about kindness, so we’ve been talking to them about them about how can you be helpful to people around you.”

The cards were created at one of the youth ministry’s Friday-night meetings using paint and stamps made from potatoes, Drowne said. The church’s phone number, address and a brief message were included on the back of the cards.

“We want them to know our church is available if they need anybody,” Drowne said.

Sunday was the first time Hanusik got a Valentine’s Day card from local children. The card was graced with vital information about the church. “If we have any need or want, we would go there,” she said.

The ministry reached out to Barnwell Recreation Director Bridget Delcoure expressing interest in handing out the valentines.

“They spent a lot of time on those cards — they did some of it with their families,” Delcoure said. “I think it sets a really, really good example. It shows a lot of compassion.”

The children were not shy about interacting with the residents, who are receptive to the attention and asked the ministry to pray for them, Drowne said.

“They’re just encouraged to see people show them love, to have anybody reach out and say ‘You’re valuable to me,’ is really important,” she said. “If we showed up with nothing and we just walked around and talked to people, that’d be fine with us and it would really bless them.”

More youth groups are visiting Barnwell on a regular basis, Delcoure said. Having intergenerational activities at the center is important because many of the residents have grandchildren.

“It’s great for the residents, they really enjoy it,” Delcoure said. “It’s a way to bridge the gap between younger generations and older generations.”

The children’s parents are involved in the activities because they set an example for them about how to share God’s love, Drowne said. Her son, Liam, is involved in the ministry.

“I want my kids to be involved from the very beginning — I want to set the example,” Drowne said.

Other church groups, community members, therapy dogs and their trainers regularly visit Barnwell, Delcoure said.

“We want to definitely provide as much socialization as we can,” she said. “When you see those volunteers, it’s something you look forward to.”

Delcoure is looking to get more groups to visit Barnwell and said the caroling the ministry does each year brightens the residents’ day.

“It’s the little things that means so much to people,” she said. “Everyone enjoys interacting with one another.”