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Sunny Hill brings residents joy during nursing home week

Sunny Hill activities director Mary Jo assisting residents with their artwork during National Nursing Home Week. Photo by Cyote Williams

The week of May 8-14 was National Nursing Home Week, and Sunny Hill in Tama was as active as ever in participating.

The special week has been celebrated by patients and nurses alike since 1967.

Activities Director Mary Jo wanted to make sure Sunny Hills residents were able to participate in this year’s festivities by hosting an entire slate of themed days.

Monday was carnival themed, which included playing carnival games in the morning. The carnival day also included a circus act from Laura Ernst out of Des Moines that included blowing up balloon animals for the residents. Mary Jo participated by dressing up.

“I had clown suspenders and a bow tie and the floppy shoes,” she said.

Sunny Hill residents participate in their art day during national nursing home week by painting ornaments and pictures. Photo by Cyote Williams

Art Day was held on Tuesday for the residents. They were able to view artwork from people who work at Sunny Hill, but also from South Tama students. Missy from Marshalltown’s Messy Missy’s Studio and Art Gallery was in attendance on Tuesday to help the residents with canvas painting.

Wednesday was music day, where different music performers came in and performed for the residents. This included a three man band, a high school soloist, and a quartet act from Marshalltown.

Pajama day kept it simple on Thursday: everyone could wear pajamas, and a magician came in from Des Moines.

Friday’s theme was Fiesta Day. Sunny Hill residents crafted their own taco shaped pinatas that they had made the week before and were able to break open. A Mexican food truck was on site for the entire day as well.

“I always have activities going all the time, but during nursing home week they’re blown up, very exaggerated,” Mary Jo said. “We can’t always have something like this because it’s very expensive, but during nursing home week we kind of blow the budget.”

Nursing homes can carry a negative stigma at times, with the normal complaints ranging from social isolation, or that the centers can feel lifeless. Sunny Hill is anything but those things, especially during nursing home week.

“It brings the morale up, and it gets the word out that we are not here to die. We are here to live. That’s what my whole mission has been since the day I walked in this place,” said a passionate Mary Jo. “That’s what we’re doing. We’re moving and shaking just like everyone else out there, just in a little different way. It’s every day, two or three times a day during the whole year. These (activities) are just more magnified during this week.”

The most recent numbers from KFF show that there are over 22,000 nursing home patients in the state of Iowa. Not all of them are staying at Sunny Hill, but the ones who do were able to enjoy one of the more underappreciated nationally celebrated weeks in the country.