Marty Stempniak, Staff Writer

We were expecting a splash of sunshine from the long-term care field, but we’ve received a tidal wave.

It’s been a little over a month since we launched our “BrightenUpLTC” campaign, aiming to unearth stories about how nursing homes are working to liven up things for their residents, employees and members of the community. Since McKnight’s sent out that first email blast around late November, we’ve received dozens of heartwarming stories about the good deeds providers are doing that go beyond regular skilled care.

We’ve highlighted a few of those in our “The Brighter Side” column in recent weeks, including a makeup memorial service for one Michigan woman who couldn’t attend her brother’s funeral; a collection of elderly elves at one Washington home who crafted hundreds of wooden toys for charity; and a Massachusetts activities director who’s taking holiday decorations to a whole new level.

It’s going to take us a while to work through all of your submissions in 2019, but keep ‘em coming! I plan to highlight a handful of these stories here in our DailyEditors’ Notes occasionally and our monthly print feature, “A Day in the Life.” For further details on what we’re looking for, you can check out my November blog on the campaign. Here are a few more that caught our eye in recent weeks:

Residents love bubbly New Jersey volunteer

Artie Heiser

The Warren Haven Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, in Oxford, NJ, is proud to have a collection of active volunteers. But residents’ favorite has to be Artie Heiser, from Port Murray, NJ, says Director of Marketing Maggie Garatty.

His mom was a resident at the facility and instilled her son with the “art of bubble blowing.” Heiser loves to put on a show for residents, along with transporting them to activities and helping with meals.

“He is a huge asset to our facility, lending a helping hand wherever and whenever he can,” Garatty told McKnight’s.

Tooth fairy visits continuing care retirement community

When Pennsylvania CCRC resident Gladys Ziegenfus chipped her tooth just before her 90th birthday, she joked with her daughter, asking whether the Tooth Fairy would be visiting.

Waking the next morning, she found a thoughtful note under her pillow, along with a “crisp dollar” bill, tucked away by one of the staff nurses, at the request of her daughter, Jane. Days after her birthday party, the nonagenarian’s curiosity about the note persists.

“It has been a week and Gladys is still looking for the Tooth Fairy, or for whoever it is who has brought her so much joy and happiness,” Garden Spot Storyteller Juanita Fox tells McKnight’s.

An unusual surprise visitor in Old Beverly

“Sir Erik” the alpaca

Residents at the Blueberry Hill Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center got a pleasant surprise with a visit from “Sir Erik,” the alpaca.

Staffers from the Beverly, MA, provider kept his visit a secret, and residents and employees alike were both equally excited for the encounter, Blueberry Hill said on its Facebook page.

Sir Erik hails from the Harvard Alpaca Ranch about 50 miles west of the nursing home.

“They had such a wonderful time with him,” Natalie Adis, a spokeswoman for parent company Marquis Health Services, told McKnight’s.

Maintenance man who ‘slays’

Jordan Hopper

Nicole Bullock, R.N., administrator with Diversicare of Ripley, MS, says she wouldn’t trade her maintenance director, Jordan Hopper, for the world.

“Every now and again you run into those genuine people, you know the ones I mean. The people that are genuinely kind and genuinely want to do good,” she told McKnight’s. “He’s one of those people.”

Most recently, they asked Hopper to craft a small pantry for Ripley residents to donate supplies for the less fortunate. As usual, he hit the nail on the head, literally and figuratively.

“He always slays any idea we come up with,” Bullock said.

Resident shows off his sweet skills at building

Finally, from one builder to the next, retired chef and nursing Ron Smith is wowing both employees and residents with his skills at the Ramsey County Care Center, in Maplewood, MN.

A resident for four years at the facility, he recently created an elaborate replica of the state capitol out of candy and gingerbread. His work was highlighted last month in the local newspaper.

Resident Services Director Lorna Leistikow reached out to make sure that we read about Smith’s handy work. She said his first year, the chef started with a single building, but it’s grown in scope and size with each turn of the calendar.

“Residents, staff and visitors are is awe of his work,” Leistikow told McKnight’s. “His creations have certainly been on the brighter side of his life and all of ours.”

Follow Staff Writer Marty Stempniak @MStempniak.