June 2013

Technology bridges older adults, elementary-school children

The students and center participants: Adults, front row, l-r, Judy Fruitiger, Penny Breanneman, Giovanna Brunner, Emily Kerschner, Connie Danatzko, Donna Thompson, Bethany White, Ed Hornacek, Carol Loutsenhizer, and Dave Lohman. In back: Connie and Bruce Long. Photograph courtesy of Curt Werner.

On June 3, 2013, 12 members of the Schuylkill Haven Senior Community Center took a trip to visit the third-grade class at South Mountain Elementary School near Dillsburg. We have been Skyping with this class throughout their school year. It was an exciting day for us—we would finally meet the students with whom we had shared so much throughout the year!

We were greeted at the school by their teacher, Donna Nebistinsky, and the principal, Jeff Clifton. We were served a delicious luncheon prepared by several class mothers. In fact, the children were not aware that we were visiting—it was to be a special surprise to them.

They were very surprised and excited to finally meet us in person.

After our lunch, the students were brought to us. They were very surprised and excited to finally meet us in person. We spent time in their computer lab, shared memorable things from our lives and school days that we had brought along with us. We had old school photos, yearbooks, our third-grade report cards, and toys.

We also toured the school and visited the outdoor garden project the students tend. Before leaving we enjoyed  a special cake with our students.

It was a wonderful day for all those involved and we thank Diakon for making it happen!

By Emily Kerschner
Schuylkill Haven Senior Community Center member and Skype project coordinator

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In a separate article for a local newspaper, Teacher Donna Nebistinsky also wrote about the visit—and added the following comments to what her mother, Emily Kerscher, had written:

... When the students returned from the cafeteria to find their friends enjoying a luncheon in the classroom, they were overwhelmed.

The students took their friends to the computer lab to create memory photo pages, gave them a building tour, and showed them the veggie gardens they had planted earlier in the year.

The highlight, though, was spending time just visiting with each of the adults while they shared photos, toys, collections and other memories from their own childhoods. The group held their final Skype visit on the last day of school.

The program benefitted both groups, but has definitely helped the students to see that “old people aren’t boring after all”!

Emily Kerschner shows photographs from her school days with students with whom she Skyped.


Participants share the following comments from the day ...

Jeff Clifton, principal:
“We have taken our class on many field trips, but today the field trip came to our school!”

Connie D., center member:
“A great trip letting us see how many people we have touched. We made a difference and are valued and appreciated.”

Ed H. and Dave L.:
“How knowledgeable the children are and how their education differs from ours. Well-behaved pupils, nice teacher, excellent staff.”

Bruce & Connie L.:
“Enjoyed the computer lab, meeting the pupils, enjoyed the bus ride.”

Carol L.:
“Really good class of students, very enjoyable day.”

Judy F.:
“Computer lab was amazing; the garden was beautiful.”

Donna T.:
“Very nice day, enjoyed meeting everyone!”

Penny B.:
“Pupils enjoyed seeing my old photos and making comic book art with me on the computer.”

Giovanna B.:
“Pupils were very interested in the things I brought along from Italy, the money, my passport and the steamship passenger list from my emigration to the USA

Emily K.:
“An awesome day, enjoyed meeting these pupils and everyone who helped to make a special day for us. Even though there was a generation gap, we touched their lives and they touched ours. Perhaps we can continue this in the future.”

“Thank you Diakon from all of us!”

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108-year-old Manatawny Manor resident: A long life, well lived

When you’ve celebrated 108 birthdays, people want to know the secret to your long life. Sophie Voynar, who hit that milestone in late spring, has this advice: Always listen to your parents, stay out of trouble, and work hard.

A resident of Manatawny Manor, a Diakon Senior Living Community in Pottstown, Pa,, Voynar did all of those. The oldest daughter in her family of four boys and four girls, she attended a one-room school, completing six grades.

At 14, she obtained her first job, washing glasses and setting tables at a Pottsville hotel near the tiny village of Caska, where she was born. A “working girl” all her life, Voynar didn’t slow down much even after retiring. She filled her days volunteering in the pharmacy at Pottstown Medical Center and reading to kindergarteners at local schools.  

Sophie Voynar is greeted on her 108th birthday by state Sen. Andrew Dinniman.

Today, she still keeps busy, participating in activities such as Wii bowling and bingo every day, sharing stories with other residents, and getting her hair and nails done regularly. Everyone knows her, says Janet Swiecicki, Manatawny Manor activities director.

“We are her family,” Manatawny Manor staff say.

“She is very endearing to people,” Swiecicki says. “She never gives up, just goes with the flow.”

Of course, living more than a century means Voynar has outlived most of her family and friends. Her husband and son are gone; one brother, in his 90s, is still living.

“We are her family,” Swiecicki says. “Earlier this year, she was invited to a staff member’s wedding. Her nurses would do anything for her. She’s just Sophie.”

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Wilderness Greenhouse grows plants, productive lives

Chris Edenbo, greenhouse gardener, waters plants in the Diakon Wilderness Center's greenhouse.

Seventeen students from Diakon Youth Services’ Center Point Day Program, Turning Point Lancaster Day Treatment, and the Weekend Alternative Program are developing green thumbs as they focus on the skills necessary to build productive lives.

The Diakon Wilderness Center’s Wilderness Greenhouse is part of the vocational training program at the Boiling Springs, Pa., center, teaching youths who have been adjudicated dependent or delinquent by county courts not only horticultural but also business skills.

“We are very busy right now,” says Chris Edenbo, the Diakon Youth Services staff member who oversees the program. “In addition to the youths we are serving, I have a Dickinson College intern completing her senior internship in environmental studies and a senior from Waynesboro High School completing his senior project with me,” he says. Relationships with local businesses and landscapers continue to grow, and students are providing fresh produce to two Diakon Senior Living communities as a result of their efforts.

The greenhouse is "green" itself in that it is part of the wilderness center's environmentally sound wastewater-treatment system.

"We also currently have three adult volunteers from the community who regularly contribute time in the greenhouse, and their efforts do not include small businesses and organizations whose staff members occasionally drop in to contribute a day of labor," says Edenbo.

"The greenhouse also has received donations and business support such as space for flower sales and advertising from Konhaus Marketing, Metro Bank, Ames True Temper, and The Boiling Springs Tavern, to name just a few," he adds.

The Diakon Wilderness Greenhouse is "green" not only because it produces plants, but also because it serves as an integral part of the wilderness center's wastewater-treatment system.

In addition, Brickman Landscaping has purchased all of its 2013 ornamental grasses for central Pennsylvania needs from the program and has already placed a fall order for pansies, Edenbo adds. "They provide clinics and workshops for our students and assess students for potential employment. They opened up two of their locations to provide Diakon-specific paid internships for one youth at each location. This is a way to reach out to our graduates as well as current students, and we are very pleased with this wonderful partnership."

The program's vegetable garden has begun providing vegetables to Morrison Culinary Services at Cumberland Crossings and Frey Village, a process that will continue into early fall.

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Civil War re-enactor honors late son through service as chaplain

Paul Herring stands next to the gravestone of Chaplain Calkins, the man he represents during re-enactments.)

As a Civil War re-enactor, Paul Herring helps keep history alive, but more importantly he honors the memory of his late son.

A resident of Cumberland Crossings, a Diakon Senior Living Community in Carlisle, Pa., Herring serves as chaplain for the 149th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, the same unit his son Mark served for 15 years.

“After [Mark] died, his oldest son and I decided to join in his memory,” says Herring. “I read the history of the 149th and discovered that they had only one chaplain during the Civil War—James Fredrick Calkins.”

As a retired United Methodist minister, Herring decided it would be appropriate for him to serve the re-enactment group as "Chaplain Calkins." With that in mind, he set out to visit the church Calkins had served and the cemetery in which he is buried, as well as the nearby historical society. He learned that while chaplains were commissioned as captains, they did not wear regular uniforms, captain’s bars or anything identifying them as an officer.

"I discovered that my son Mark had enlisted most of the young men and a few women in that unit and had trained them,” he says.

“One of the main reasons was they did not want to get shot at,” says Herring, adding that chaplains wore a plain black suit and did not carry weapons. “I facetiously say I carry the sword of the Lord, the bible.”
Eight to 10 times a year, Herring joins members of the 149th in various re-enactments.

“I do a full service on Sunday and assist in any way I can with the other members, whether hauling wood, keeping the fire going, or getting food for the unit,” he says. “During the Civil War, chaplains often helped the doctors because there were a lot of people who were ill or had amputations.”

Paul Herring serves as chaplain during a re-enactment.

Herring ministers to many of the re-enactors who do impressions of soldiers injured in the war. “I will have different prayers for them depending on whether they were wounded or killed,” he says. “The chaplains in those days ministered to either side.”

While Herring is participating in these weekend re-enactments, his son is never far from his thoughts. “I have a tent that actually was my son’s tent. I have his cot,” he says, adding that he also has his son’s bible. “The old bible was produced in 1841, 20 years before the Civil War. It is in pretty bad condition. I have it wrapped with a big rubber band to hold it together.”

Men and women who were trained by his son surround him.

“When I started re-enacting with the 149th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, I discovered that my son Mark had enlisted most of the young men and a few women in that unit and had trained them,” he says. “Over the last four years, I have been re-enacting with them and learned that he was very beloved by them and others who knew him.”

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