Christmas party brings cheer to Heartland residents

By Argen Duncan: PNT Senior Writer

As holiday music plays, people, many in wheelchairs, snack on cream puffs and pinwheels, and then tear into gifts from the people who serve them every day.

It’s Christmastime at Heartland Continuing Care Center. About 75 people live at Heartland and Tuesday they celebrated the holiday with a party.

“We have a big family to share Christmas with,” said resident Cotton Clark. “These residents are our family now, and the workers, too.”

Cotton’s wife, Ila Jean, lives with him in the nursing home, as do two other relatives.

“They’re good to help us get ready for Christmas,” she said.

Residents collect “bonus bucks” throughout the year and use them to shop before Christmas, Ila Jean said. Activities Director Dawn Kryder said the “store” is stocked with community donations.

“One of the highlights for them is being able to give gifts for their families and the ones they care about,” she said, adding the program gives residents a sense of self-worth.

Kryder said about a quarter of the residents leave to visit family for the holidays, and most of the rest have relatives come see them.

“Some of them, we are their family here,” she continued.

To avoid interfering with family time, Kryder said, Heartland has no activities on Christmas Day except a special dinner.

From Thanksgiving to Christmas, she said, residents have even more activities available than normal.

Also, the community stops by. Heartland hosts as many as one or two groups of carolers daily, Kryder said.

In addition, Portales residents Lee Landry and Deborah King distribute hugs and candy. Landry began the effort three years ago, and King joined her the year after.

This year, they prepared 80 regular candy cups and 16 sugar-free cups, and worked on the project since October, King said.

Resident Fay Jeffries said the candy was very good and she was thankful for it.

“We enjoyed it,” she said.

Landry said she began bringing candy because she wanted to do something for the residents since she felt sorry that they weren’t with their families.

“And I thought if I could give a little cheer for Christmastime, it would be worth it,” she said.

King said as a high school student she volunteered at the building, when it was Roosevelt General Hospital, so she came back to hand out candy.

“If we brought an ounce of joy to any resident, that’s what it’s all about,” King said.

For the Christmas party, staff members buy presents for each resident and Santa visits.

Resident Darwin Jones and his wife, Estelle, have lived at Heartland about three months, and he said the party was “all right.” During the holidays, resident Neva Wilhoit said, activities are well-organized, and residents get to be with friends and have goodies.

Kryder said the efforts are about bringing a spirit of life, love and friendship and family to Heartland, the home of the residents.

“I wish that more people were involved in seeing the energy and love that’s in this building,” Kryder said. “It’s out of this world. Their spirits are just as young as ours, especially at Christmastime.”