Creating bonds with Kewaunee residents
By Kana Coonce
KEWAUNEE – Last fall, employees at the Kewaunee Public Library (KPL) brought smiles to area seniors’ faces with a series of Lifelong Learning classes.
Late last month, these same employees presented their report on the program to the Nicolet Federated Library System (NFLS) Committee of Librarians.
“It was a favorite of ours last year, for sure,” said Library Director Carol Petrina, one of four library staff members who collaborated on the program.
For several years, KPL has partnered with three area assisted living facilities to deliver materials — most commonly large-print books, audiobooks and occasionally movies — to residents.
When staff applied for NFPL’s grant, they decided that they wanted to put together some programming specially for their older patrons.
“Sometimes, I feel like [residents of assisted living facilities] are forgotten,” said Petrina. “We just wanted to reach out to them and bring them some joy right to their door.”
Such joy entailed teaching participants how to make a variety of seasonally-pertinent crafts, ranging from scarecrow wreaths to bird feeders to paintings to holiday floral arrangements.
In total, the program spanned roughly four months.
Two staff members, Ann Reinke and Pam Roets, conducted one class per facility a month, in addition to hosting two classes at the library per month which were open to the public.
“They were always really happy to see us,” said Reinke of the classes’ elderly participants.
Petrina continued her thought,“They were looking forward to when Ann and Pam went. They always had a really great time, you could tell.”
For library staff, the feeling was mutual.
“They all have their different personalities,” Reinke said when asked about her favorite part of the experience. “They would reminisce about when they were kids, or in high school. They felt like they knew me very well after we were there several times. We just enjoyed visiting with them.”
Petrina echoed her sentiments. “It triggered a lot of positive memories, talking about things in the past,” said Petrina. “Ann is from Kewaunee, so people know her family, so that was a great draw. And Pam’s got a sparkling personality, too, so I think the residents really enjoyed spending time with them.”
Petrina pointed to one thank you note sent by a participant named Rosemary after the first class as a particular highlight.
“Thank you Ann and Pam for giving us a great time yesterday,” the note reads. “I enjoyed the time and really like the door decoration I made with your help. See you again.”
These bonds library staff formed with residents have transcended the proverbial classroom.
“We’ve always gone [to the assisted living facilities], but now that [the residents] know Ann, they call her up and go, ‘Ann, I need some James Pattersons!’” Petrina said. “It kind of deepened our relationships with them overall.”
It also deepened the library’s relationship with the broader Kewanunee community, Petrina said. When library staff would post photos of class participants on social media, often posing with their crafts, “we’d get comments like, ‘Look, there’s Uncle so-and-so!’”
“Everyone at all ages needs social interactions,” said Petrina, noting that in addition to providing elderly residents with company, classes also encouraged residents’ playfulness, stimulated their senses and boosted their moods. “Everyone needs a mood booster now and then.”
The classes were funded by a one-time grant from the NFLS, which encompasses the Florence, Marinette, Oconto, Menominee, Shawano, Brown, Kewaunee and Door County libraries.
In order to receive grant money, participating libraries were required to use funds toward promoting workforce & economic development, information technology, and/or reading proficiency and lifelong learning. In addition, following the programs’ completion, participants were asked to give a report on their programs to the NFLS Committee of Librarians and work with the NFLS on a short publicity presentation.
Though NFLS has no plans to make the Library Improvement and Innovation Grant a recurring thing, Petrina hopes to conduct similar projects in the future.
“We’re kind of looking for ways to continue to do events like that,” she said. “We’re definitely doing events like that here at the library and, as staffing allows, going out and doing some outreach like that.”
For more on KPL’s program offerings, including children’s summer programs, book clubs, matinee film screenings for adults and Senior Coffee Club, visit https://www.kewauneepubliclibrary.org/programs.