By Noell Wolfgram Evans
The Youngs have built a time machine.
In the lobby of Meadow Grove Transitional Care at 5919 Blue Star Drive in Grove City is not a mechanism of metal and spinning gears, but a collection of cloth and wood and glue. Yet it still has the ability to transport one back in time. This time machine though owes less to H.G. Wells or Doc Brown and more to Aristotle who once wisely stated that with certain things, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
While Gail and Bill Young are technically employees of Meadow Grove, a facility with just under 100 residents, the couple doesn’t see their positions as a job. To them, their work is about something more. It’s about positive connections and an extended definition of family.
“I have a medical background,” Gail said, “so I know how easy it can be for people to lose that personal touch when they have to move out of their home.”
To that end, they do all that they can to give back the lives the residents had. This includes spending time with them not just as employees, but as friends. They often spend a day working, go home to eat and check the house, and then return to visit with residents.
In May 2016, the Youngs had an idea – to bring back to the residents a little of their past. To do this, they took a corner of the lobby and created a seasonal display. The idea, at first, was to just, as Gail put it, “Help make it feel here like a home away from home.”
The reaction was positive and so the Young’s decided that as the seasons shifted, so would their display. Their initial idea grew and morphed as the couple worked together, often as they went, in deciding how best to build on their previous successes. As the winter holidays approached, anticipation grew, for both the Youngs and the residents of Meadow Grove.
Fanatical is a description that sometimes brings negative connotations with it but in this case, it’s an apt description – Gail and Bill are fanatical about Christmas. They usually decorate every square inch of their home with trees and tinsel. As this past holiday approached though, Bill realized that for all of the joy their decorations brought them and those who visited, they had the potential to brighten and transport the lives of so many more if they were to grace Meadow Grove.
So the Youngs, who have been building display after display with no financial help from anyone, donated their decorations to create what Gail called a “winter wonderland.” It featured 21 trees, nutcrackers of all shapes and sizes, and garland galore among other decorative flourishes.
“What that did, what we try to do with all of this,” Bill said, “is to just give them back a little of their lives outside of this home.”
“They go all out. It’s something special for the residents,” said Mike, a volunteer at the facility.
Their mission has been a great success. With every new display, Bill and Gail encounter residents in conversations spurred on by a memory evoked from a Christmas ornament or a simple blue bike (part of the spring display). The couple has also experienced the satisfaction of watching residents provide their guests with tours of the displays.
Bill said, “They do it like it’s their own which is what we want them to feel like.”
When Memorial Day rolled around and the Fourth of July right behind it, the couple decided to create what is in effect a mini-museum. It’s a history of the U.S. Flag from the fir tree adorned “An Appeal to Heaven” flag of George Washington to the Stars and Stripes we fly today.
At the center of this display is the uniform of Bill Young, a veteran. While Bill is proud to share his past with residents, he is quick to point out that it’s not a vanity project.
“We do all of this for them.”
As they built out this display in their garage, conveniently within walking distance, they started learning a lot of flag history. This prompted a decision to provide several handouts that residents can pick up making this display as much a museum as a time machine.
Gail shared that her goal is a simple one.
“If I can make just one person smile each day, then I can go home and feel like I’ve made a difference.”
For his part, Bill loves hearing the reactions that each display provokes from the residents.
“They all have a story,” Bill said. “And it’s fun to go into those.”