Rest Home Visits Brighten Day for Lonely Residents : Christmas: A group of families spends time talking and singing with the elderly. ‘It just perks them right up,’ a nurse says.


Myrtle Hovley, 93, said she misses talking to people and especially appreciated having someone visit her on Christmas.

When visitors come, she said, “It causes you to talk.”

Hovley was visited at the Venturan Convalescent Center by Patty Rose, 36; her son, Craig, 6; Levi Houser, 3, and the Roses’ dog, Wooda.

The Roses and other Ventura County residents who stopped by to see patients at the nursing home in Ventura were part of a nationwide volunteer effort called the Holiday Project, which organizes visits to the elderly and the ill on holidays throughout the year.


About 60 Ventura County residents divided into six teams of about 10 each to visit three hospitals and three convalescent homes in Ventura and Oxnard on Christmas afternoon.

Although a Holiday Project chapter has been active in Santa Barbara County for more than 10 years, the Christmas visits represented an effort to launch a chapter in Ventura County, organizers said.

Rose and her husband, Paul Rose, 37, of Santa Paula, said they have participated in the Santa Barbara chapter for about a year.

Paul Rose, who worked on oil rigs in Northern California and in the Rocky Mountains, said he understands the loneliness of some of the people they visit.


“There were a lot of times that I worked on Christmas Day,” he said.

Nurses at the Ventura convalescent home said a visit makes a difference to most patients--even if it is from strangers.

“It just perks them right up,” nurse Mina Serres said.

“I think it makes them feel that somebody cares,” nurse Susan Dickerson said.


While some volunteers led about 10 of the home’s 70 residents in Christmas carols in the center’s activity room, others visited residents who stayed in their rooms.

Ventura resident Meagan Houser, 14, whose entire family participated in the volunteer effort, spoke for a few minutes to Rose Kunzmann, who lay on a stretcher in the activity room.

But Kunzmann, who nurses said is over 80 and severely arthritic, was not very talkative.

“She just wanted to sing,” Meagan said.


After Kunzmann and Meagan sang a duet of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” Kunzmann soloed on “Silent Night,” singing some of the verses in German.

Kunzmann said “Silent Night” is her favorite carol. “Something about it is nice,” she said.

Meagan said she felt comfortable around the frail, elderly people. She used to visit her mother, Verlie Houser, 44, at her job in a nursing home, Meagan said.

“I’ve always tried to keep my kids around the elderly,” said Verlie Houser, who was joined by her husband and three sons, as well as Meagan.


Convalescent home resident Helen Burkness said the best part of the visit was watching the children, who spent much of the afternoon playing in the hallways and activity room.

“I think they’re wonderful,” Burkness said.

Burkness is retired from the state Department of Industrial Relations, where she labored to improve working conditions for women and children. Her husband died 10 years ago, and she has no children, she said.

“I’m all alone,” said Burkness, adding that she moved to the convalescent home a year ago.


Burkness agreed that visitors add a lot to the lives of the elderly.

“It makes us more interested in life,” she said.

The Holiday Project volunteers stayed at the convalescent home for 2 1/2 hours. But after about an hour, Craig Rose was sprawled next to his dog on the floor of the center’s activity room.

“Too much walking,” said Craig, who was surrounded by residents in wheelchairs.