Congregation Beth Shalom members volunteer at the Bluffs

Tuesday, November 8, 2011 | 6:00 a.m. CST
Brent Lowenberg carries flowers to his car that will be delivered to residents at The Bluffs on Sunday. Lowenberg is a member of the Congregation Beth Shalom, and they try to visit residents at the Bluffs three times a year.

COLUMBIA — Inside the activities room of the Bluffs nursing facility, a resident sat in her wheelchair as Brent Lowenberg helped her mark her bingo card. 

"Now if we win this, how are we gonna divide our money?" she asked him jokingly. 

Lowenberg, a former social service worker with senior citizens for the state, is a member of Congregation Beth Shalom in Columbia. The congregation visited the Bluffs on Sunday to distribute flowers and pictures to the residents. They visit Bluffs residents about three times a year.

As they walked through the Bluffs, the volunteers could see residents lounging in the rooms, watching television and taking naps. As they got nearer to the activities room, it became clear there would be plenty of guests to interact with.

Before the volunteers arrived, the residents lined up to enter the activities room after an intercom announcement encouraged all residents to participate in the game day.

One by one residents gathered at the long activities room table. They were each given a vase filled with flowers and a picture made by Sunday school children at Beth Shalom.

There were more residents than volunteers on Sunday, though the number of volunteers varies, volunteer Stella Read said.

"It's considered a good thing to do, to visit the sick," longtime Beth Shalom volunteer Irwin Kaye said. "In fact this week we're talking about Abraham, who was visited by God when recovering from an operation." 

The three volunteers who came this past Sunday were members of the congregation's "tikkun olam" group, a social action committee at Beth Shalom. The group's name means "repairing the world."

The Beth Shalom volunteers get to know the residents on a personal level.

"There was a woman from Chicago, and I'm from Chicago," Read said. "We reminisced about old downtown Chicago, we talked about how we used to dress up to go downtown — it was a special treat to go to downtown Chicago."

With parakeet birds singing from their cage in the room and images of James Bond on the walls, the residents settled in to begin the first of many bingo games led by the volunteers.

"O-73," Read announced. She continued to announce the numbers with praise from the residents for her clear voice.

"That's my lucky number," a resident said as Read announced a number.

After about an hour and a half of bingo playing and a resident mysteriously winning three games in a row, the volunteers ended the games. 

Lowenberg summed up the importance of the day before helping to wheel a resident back to a room.

"It helps them feel part of the community."

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