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For more than half her life, 95-year-old Ada Hickman has lived in a cozy house on South Second Street, packed with photographs of friends and family, interspersed with images and statuettes of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Hickman looks a few decades younger than she is, dressed smartly in a lace-collared shirt and pressed, plaid skirt. She and Bardstown at Home volunteer Patsy Shawler are discussing how to make angel biscuits.
“I make all my bread,” Hickman explains.
Hickman lives only a block from where she was born in the heart of Bardstown. As she’s grown older, she’s maintained close friendships with her neighbors, who help her with day-to-day chores, like driving her to the laundromat. But Hickman acknowledges it isn’t exactly safe for her to walk around downtown by herself. So when a friend told her about Bardstown at Home a month and a half ago, she decided to give it a try.
“They help me with everything. They can take me to the laundromat. They can take me shopping,” Hickman said. These things make it easier for her to stay independent.
“I’ve been here 50 years. I’m not going no place,” she laughs.
Bardstown at Home is still in its infancy, but since the nonprofit organization got its first client in early September, it’s taken on 19 more, and about the same number of volunteers. It reaches out to Nelson County residents in the 40004 zip code who are 55 and older, and the services it provides are multifold: volunteers aid clients in everything from transportation and social opportunities to home maintenance and cooking. Volunteers will even come out to help clients change a light bulb, according to the program brochure.
“Our goal is to keep them safely in their homes,” explained Lynn Hammack, a volunteer and one of the organization’s founding members.
The idea first came to Hammack and Suzanne Reasbeck about two years ago. As Hammack recalls, Reasbeck had an older client who called her one day to say she was unable to balance her checkbook any more. Reasbeck was reminded of a Boston-based program she had heard about called Beacon Hill Village, which has inspired more than 60 other community-based programs to pop up throughout the country since it was founded in 2002.
Hammack became more aware of the need locally when she began encountering clients with problems similar to what Reasbeck had seen. Meanwhile, her stepson, Jerl Hammack, encountered many of the same challenges working as a licensed practical nurse at a rehab hospital.
“He was seeing a lot of people there that were dismissed from the hospital and were coming back in worse shape than when they left,” Lynn Hammack said, explaining they had little or no help when they were at home.
Hammack and Reasbeck became convinced that not only did Bardstown need its own village — this town could step up to the
“That’s why Lynn and I thought that Bardstown was a good place for this program — because there’s an attitude here that people want to help people,” Reasbeck said.
They opened an office on Court Square with the help of Jerl and another co-founder, Sheila Hutchins — and found support in the community almost immediately. The building’s owners, the Floyd brothers, gave them the space rent-free, and local businesses have donated everything from appliances to discounted renovation work on the office.
Among Bardstown at Home’s first clients were Charles and Bernice Minor. Though Bernice, 84, suffers from Alzheimer’s, at age 87 Charles remains fiercely independent, often keeping busy in his workshop. A trio of wild turkeys were visiting their yard last week, along with a white rooster that had shown up a week before. Charles scattered the front yard with birdseed while Bernice watched out the window. He’s building an addition to the back of their house, where he placed the windows low enough so Bernice can look out comfortably while seated.
They’ve lived in their home off Joe Lyvers Lane for 30 years, and Charles doesn’t like the idea of assisted living.
“I love it here,” Charles said. “It’s not much of a house but we sure love it.”
“Charles can just about do anything around here,” Bernice said.
The main assistance volunteers provide for the Minors is help with nutrition advice and food. Volunteers often bring along home-cooked meals for their clients, especially if they need to focus on healthy eating, Hammack said.
“The only thing I have a problem with is to try to come up with something different for meals,” Charles said. “I know how to eat, but I don’t know how to cook.”
Bernice also likes the opportunity to socialize — maybe even run into someone she hasn’t seen in a while. Bardstown at Home not only organizes focus meetings for prospective members, it recently had a Thanksgiving celebration — and more events are on the way, Hammack said.
Bernice is an excellent painter — Charles likes showing off her work, including a prize-winning pelican likely inspired by the couple’s years in Florida. Hammack said she wants to organize some art classes, and suggested Bernice should teach a few.
“I can’t draw a straight line, so I would like to learn,” Hammack laughed.
“We don’t like straight lines, so it’s OK,” Bernice quipped with a smile.
Perhaps most important of all is that the Minors are surrounded by memories —paintings, family photos, souvenirs — from their more than 60 years of marriage.
“She goes through that stuff day after day after day. That’s her life,” Charles said, looking into the living room at his wife. She’s holding a piece of paper, possibly a photograph.
Though the Minors live in the 40004 zip code, they live outside the city, and Hammack said the program can expand even farther the more volunteers it has. It just makes sense for a volunteer to be based in the same town as their client, she explained. That said, Bardstown at Home doesn’t want to turn anyone away, and may soon take on its first client in Chaplin, Hammack said.
Pam Dickerson, a registered nurse, conducts the first visit to a new client’s home, checking for ways to make his or her home safer and doing a general assessment of the client’s need. Bardstown at Home doesn’t offer medical services, Hammack said — just a little help with healthy eating habits and a focus on safety. The services the program provides come at a cost of $360 a year for an individual and $500 for a couple.
Bardstown at Home didn’t necessarily start out with this intention, but volunteers have started to pair with clients on a semi-permanent basis, visiting the same ones repeatedly, building a relationship, Hammack said.
That certainly has been the case for Hickman and Shawler, who in only two weeks have become fast friends. The conversation about cooking turns to talk of Hickman’s years as a housekeeper at Nazareth — and Shawler, once a student there, realizes they were there at the same time and know many of the same nuns.
“Isn’t that strange how it comes around?” Shawler says, shaking her head in wonder.
Then talk returns to the kitchen. Hickman needs a new stove and they’ll go shopping for it, maybe next week. Hammack will call around and try to find a used one. The ultimate plan is to have a few people over to Shawler’s house to learn how to bake angel biscuits. Perhaps Bernice can come, Hammack suggests.
“I’ve met a very special lady that I have gone home and thought about her life, thought about the way she presents herself. She’s been through some tough times, but look at that smile,” Shawler said. It’s true — the warm smile rarely leaves Hickman’s face. “I think Lynn did a good job putting us together, don’t you?”
Hickman laughs. “I sure do. I sure do.”
Erin L. McCoy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.