By Alissa Paolella
Rhonda Farley was tired to the bone. She had spent the past several years waking at 4 a.m. daily to help care for her aging mother. With the assistance of her grown son, Rhonda was providing around-the-clock care for her mother, Georgena, who was experiencing the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. But Rhonda promised her mother that she wouldn’t send her to a long-term care community. Whatever it took, Rhonda was going to ensure her mother lived independently through the end of her life.
When Rhonda found Cherry Arbors, a United Church Homes affordable housing community in her hometown of North Lewisburg, Ohio, she immediately felt a sense of relief. Finally, her mother would have a safe place to call home. What Rhonda didn’t know was how the residents would become like a second family to her mother.
Rhonda and Georgena worked with the service coordinator to get the necessary supports for Georgena in her new home. From home health services, visiting physicians, Meals on Wheels, exercise classes and potlucks, Georgena would have the extra care she needed.
Eventually, Georgena required in-home hospice services before she died. But by then, Rhonda and the other residents had already bonded in a way that made them just like family.
“She might not live here, but she’s part of us,” resident Joan said. “She does so much for all of us.”
Rhonda continues to volunteer regularly at Cherry Arbors, where she walked to and from three-to-four times per day when her mother lived there. She takes homecooked meals and treats for the residents. Rhonda also sponsors a monthly birthday party at the community, providing lunch and cake. And she brings in homemade jelly for her friends, who refer to her as their daughter.
“Rhonda is a godsend,” said Housing Manager Shawn Hoffner. “She’s right where she’s supposed to be.”
For all this and more, Rhonda received the annual Community Volunteer of the Year Award from Cherry Arbors.
Rhonda gets as much back as she gives. She said she would recommend Cherry Arbors to anyone with aging parents. Qualified residents pay only 30 percent of their incomes for rent, providing an affordable housing option for residents age 65 and older.
“It took about three or four months for Mom to get settled,” Rhonda said. “Once she did, all the residents were so kind and looked after her. Neighbors here take care of one another. There isn’t a better place to call home.”
Rhonda and Shawn joke that her apartment is ready after retirement — but it’s a joke with some truth. Rhonda hopes to live at Cherry Arbors one day.
Alissa Paolella is the communications coordinator for CHHSM member United Church Homes. This article originally appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of United Church Homes’ Spirit magazine. Reprinted with permission.