Johnston County community holds car parade for Tishomingo nursing home seniors

Sierra Rains
Several Johnston County community members made signs to hold up while driving by the Blue River Nursing Home in Tishomingo on Tuesday morning. The community gathered for a car parade to support seniors who have been unable to see family and friends due to COVID-10 concerns.

Residents at the Blue River Nursing Home in Tishomingo stepped outside— some for the first time since the middle of March— Tuesday morning, where they were greeted with a streamline of cars in a parade around the building.

Wanda Gray, director of INCA-RSVP, a retired senior volunteer program, said close to 30 people from the community and various organizations such as the Tishomingo Police Department, INCA Community Services, Complete Home Health Services and the Johnston County Health Department joined together to raise the spirits of nursing home residents who have been shut inside amid a global health crisis.

“It does your heart good to see others smile and in a time when you want to help but don’t know exactly how to help and you’re trying to social distance, just being able to reach out and do a little bit of something, it brings the community together,” Gray said.

At the front of the parade was a long-time volunteer with the nursing home who seized the opportunity to reconnect with some of the residents. Individuals followed behind her in their vehicles, waving to the residents and displaying signs with messages like, “You are loved” and “You have a purpose” as they drove by.

The excitement on part of the nursing home residents was evident, said Kayla Garrett, a home health marketer with Complete Home Health Services and the main organizer of the parade.

Some residents danced along to music playing and others chatted back and forth with the children in the vehicles. One senior watching from the nursing home held a sign that read “We are going to get through this together”.

“They were smiling, they were laughing, a few cars, including myself, stopped and visited with some of the familiar faces that I knew,” Garrett said.

Garrett, who is also a part of the COVID-19 response team organized by INCA-RSVP and other Johnston County organizations, said she had the idea for the parade after seeing another town do something similar for their seniors.

“I work closely with the nursing home already and other businesses in our town, doctor’s offices, hospitals, and things like that so I just posted on my personal Facebook, ‘Hey would anybody be interested in doing this? It seems really cool and I think that they would like it’,” Garrett said.

The response from the community was larger than Garrett said she could have imagined and to see her idea come to life was touching.

“It’s heartwarming because those people are so lonely right now. They’re used to getting several visitors a day from people working, like myself and then their family,” Garrett said. “That community leaders were able to take 20, maybe 30 minuets, out of their day to do that for them, it just made their entire day.”

During the parade donations of coloring pages and crossword puzzle books were dropped off for the seniors at the nursing home. Gray said the nursing staff will keep the donations put away for about a week in order to prevent contamination.

“I was born and raised here. I’ve lived in various states and communities in my life, but there is no place like home,” Gray said. “You can put out a call for help in this county and people show up in droves.”

Several other residents in Johnston County have also been making signs to hang on the residents’ windows and at any given time. Gray said community members can be seen tapping on the windows of the nursing home to communicate with their loved ones.

“I really think just the people are depressed about staying home and not getting to see their loved ones, even more so for the residents of the nursing home,” Gray said.

Garrett said she would encourage everyone to call their local nursing homes and see if they need any supplies or to even go visit nursing home residents through their windows, whether individuals have family there or not.

Making cards for the seniors at nursing homes or having kids color pages for them can also help remind residents that they are loved and haven’t been forgotten, Gray said.

“I just think some communication from the outside world would be really important,” Gray said. “They will know that they’re not forgotten.”