Rebuilding America: Everyday heroes across the region have made a difference

Bless Parker surveys some of the donations the Good Neighbor Project provided to the community.

As the coronavirus casts an uncertain shadow on the rest of the year, there are everyday heroes that have manned the front lines throughout the pandemic.

Essential workers have continued to work throughout the past few months, from grocery store clerks to healthcare workers, teachers, educators and everyday citizens who have been willing to lend a hand. 

Sydney Casey, from Arma, KS, has been one of those everyday heroes. Casey has been working as a home healthcare worker in Pittsburg. 

Casey has been a home healthcare worker for three months, following her time working at an Addiction Treatment Center.

“It definitely is nerve-wracking,” said Casey, when asked about working during the pandemic. “I’m blessed to still be able to work, but at the same time it is scary coming home and having to worry about bringing home something to my son.”

For those who are working in healthcare during the pandemic, the possibility of not only contracting the virus, but passing it on to family members is a very real threat.

Casey points out that although there have been social distancing rules in place these last few months, it is tough for her to follow the guidelines set in place while also properly taking care of her clients.

There are a few changes to her everyday job that she has noted, like having more paperwork and having to screen clients prior to visits.

Through this pandemic, it has opened the eyes to many on how important essential workers are to our society.

“One takeaway that I found from these past few months is that I am needed! Some people depend on others for their simple daily tasks. I’m blessed to have been able to help.” added Casey.

As America sets their focus to reopening, Casey understands the need for businesses to get back going, although she notes the potential risks.

“I understand people are ready to get back to work, so I do understand the push to reopen,  but at the same time I do feel it is too early and it’s risky. But people need money and it’s not going to be something that just goes away unfortunately.” said Casey.

Casey, like many everyday heroes around our state, said she chose her profession because she has always been a nurturing person.

“I feel like healthcare was something I was born to do.” said Casey.

Although we are being tested as a country by the coronavirus pandemic, everyday heroes like Casey have continued to be a beacon of hope to those who need care the most. 

Just imagine you have responsibility for two groups of the most vulnerable adults, with many of them able to do very little to take care of themselves…and then the COVID-19 pandemic hits.

What do you do?You do what new mother and Regional Director Roxanne Fanning has done, you use your many years of experience to lead your staff to take care of the residents in your charge in Grove and Bartlesville.

The two facilities under Fanning’s leadership have not had one infection of the virus, while other similar facilities across the country have been ravaged.

About the middle of March, when the information and warnings began to filter out, she immediately instituted a full lock down, allowing only essential medical personnel and staff to enter.

When they entered, each person was disinfected, signed in and was monitored.

The residents were limited to their rooms, if they ventured into the common areas (like to get their mail), they had to wear face masks and had their temperature taken daily.

Staff were sanitized upon arriving for work, were required to wear masks at all times and had their temperature checked three times during their shifts.

Fanning had both facilities following Centers for Medicare Service (CMS), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Governor Stitt’s directives faithfully.

Even though the rest of Oklahoma is re-opening and as phase 3 will commence on June 1, assisted living centers and nursing homes will not be allowed to open up.

There is some discussion that reopening could happen August 1, but nothing is definite.

This period has been tough on the residents and their families, since it has been literally weeks since families have been together.

On April 28th and 29th   a parade was arranged for the residents where families were able to drive by, honk and wave, though no one was allowed out of their vehicles to visit in person.

It was great weather and a huge hit with the residents and families.

Fanning said that she and her staff all feel their residents are family, especially since they realistically spend more time there than at home.

So it is no surprise that Fanning and her staff are concerned about the mental health of the residents and families.

They are seeing more cases of the “blues” and dealing with more depression.

This is more than just a job and paycheck for Fanning, “it is a calling.”

The parade was so touching, as families came by, that it brought tears to her and some of the staff as it was unfolding.

She and her brother were raised by her grandparents, plus “grandma and aunt both worked in a nursing home.”

Fanning accompanied her grandmother to work many times and began working her own job at 15 years old.

She especially remembers a dear sweet resident named Alma who became her special close friend.

As soon as Fanning graduated from high school she pursued her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, then passed her national and state boards to become an administrator in a nursing home.

She ended up leading an assisted living facility, which oddly enough, doesn’t require such licensing.

Fanning loves what she is doing and who she is doing it with, “It’s the relationships, all about relationships.”

“Every staff member is a hero and I am honored to be in the trenches with them.”

She continues “The resident aides, nurses, kitchen staff, everyone here is special, they’re worth so much more than they’re paid.”

Grandwood is a facility where residents “age in place” so many residents reside there until their final days.

When asked about that aspect of the position, Fanning responded by saying “It’s an honor to take care of them when they’re passing, going to be with Jesus.”

In some cases, hospice will come in and both organizations work hand in hand to make everything go as smoothly as possible for the family and resident.

While the position can be very demanding and stressful, Fanning credits her home office with great support and direction as they have maneuvered through the pandemic.

Fanning has enjoyed success in a tough field, one not many people are cut out for, let alone be “called” to.

While the coronavirus has raged it y through many senior citizen facilities, the residents and families watched over by Fanning and her staff rest easy, knowing their loved one is in great and loving hands.

Fanning and her staff are indeed the quiet and almost invisible heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Miami Good Neighbor Project is doing just that, being a good neighbor.

A grassroots project, it’s collecting a wide variety of items that are being distributed to those in need around Ottawa County because of hardships caused by COVID-19.

“I was sitting there one night and you hear everything on the news about what was happening and what was coming,” said Bless Parker, one of the group’s organizers. “Of course it was hitting other places first, and you could see the affect it was having there. I thought ‘man, if that gets here, the effect will be devastating’ because we have so many people that live paycheck-to-paycheck and are barely getting by anyway.”

“I thought we are going to have to find a way to feed these people.”

He said the area schools are doing a great job of providing lunches for students, but others are in need.

A core group of Parker, Cori Stotts, Rick Aldridge, Steve Chasteen and Michael Hart got the ball rolling and its snowballed from there.

“We probably named it wrong right off the start,” Parker joked. “It’s named Miami Good Neighbor Project, but that doesn’t mean if you live in Commerce we won’t help you. You are still our neighbor.

“We’ve actually helped some people in Grove. When it comes to something like this, we are going to help them. We’ve helped people in Quapaw, Fairland, Peoria, Wyandotte, Commerce, Miami — we’ve had some from Welch call. If we can get it to you, we’re going to get it to you.”

Because of the immense need, Parker said the organization is running low on canned goods and non-perishables. 

Miami Good Neighbor was able to secure a donation of 4,420 pounds of chicken from Tyson Foods.

“That’s been a huge, huge help,” Parker said. “I definitely want to give glory to the Man upstairs for this one. Without God’s help, we couldn’t have gotten this done like we have.”

He said another person has donated a cow, and it’s being processed by the Quapaw Tribe at its plant.

Cook’s Processing also had donated 100 pounds of deer meat.

“To me, this is what ‘community’ is all about,” Parker said. “Miami has always been a giving community, they have always gotten behind each other. This is one time where it’s going to have to be in a big, big way because if this thing rocks on for another three weeks to a month, people are going to be in trouble.”

The program already has assisted 286 families and 1,153 individuals as of Saturday night, Parker said.

“We’re way ahead of the curve; we’ve contacted Feed The Children. We’ve contacted the Tulsa Food Bank. So we’re ahead of everybody else, which is good, because we can get shipments before everybody else. If we had waited, no telling where we would have been.”

For additional information on the Miami Good Neighbor Project, call Parker at 918-541-8839 or Aldridge at 918-541-6056.

Signs have always been a way to get a message across to the community and for one Grove Principal, signs are a way to convey the message of support and appreciation to her teachers. 

Grove Early Childhood Center Principal Julie Bloss has been in the business of education for 31 years. Originally interested in teaching English on the high school level, Bloss changed to Early Childhood Education and hasn’t looked back. Bloss says the best part of her job is working with children. 

Bloss organized a ‘Hoot and Toot’ line at the ECC, where teachers made signs and waved to their students, who were safely tucked into their cars. The two-night event helped to aid in the feeling of closure for the 2019-2020 school year. 

Bloss took supporting her teachers to another level, having signs made and placing them in ECC teacher’s yards. The signs sport a picture of the Ridgerunner mascot and read “Grove Early Childhood Center: A hardworking, loving, amazingly talented staff member lives here!”

The idea for the signs was inspired by Teacher Appreciation Week and Bloss’ sense of adventure.  

“I saw the idea in one of my Principal Groups, I love surprises and thought it would be sun to sneak into my staff’s yard and stake a sign of appreciation and it was!” said Bloss. 

When asked if other teachers might have followed her lead, Bloss said she doesn’t know.  

“Other GPS administrators celebrated Teacher Appreciation Week in many creative ways,” said Bloss.  “I used [to make the signs]. They were affordable and fast.”

As for schools reopening, Bloss says the district is still working on a plan. 

“Our district is working on a plan to welcome students. Whether that be at our campuses or using a virtual format. It is, of course, my  hope that school will begin literally on campus. There are many fun traditions that we offer each year at the ECC, including having Ridgy visit on the morning of the first day, taking first day of school pictures,” said Bloss. “The first day of school at the ECC is magical.”

In the future, Bloss anticipates teamwork from her staff, whatever the school year may bring.  

“Our staff will continue working together on preparing our skills for Distance Learning. We want to be prepared to provide virtual learning for events such as school closure and, or, extended student absences,” said Bloss.  

Though they had to remain separated from them by windows, students from a Liberal, Missouri, school traveled to the Pittsburg area to cheer up residents in assisted living homes on Friday.

“I work for Avalon Hospice and I know first hand how hard it is for residents in facilities to be quarantined and not allowed to see family members, this is a very devastating and scary time for them as well as the staff providing care for them,” Melanie Lukenbill Wiles said. “So I wanted to do something to try and lift their spirits.”

Her son and his friends agreed to create signs with positive messages on them to bring a smile to the residents’ faces. 

“It was just as much a blessing to them as it was for the residents,” Lukenbill Wiles said. “They didn’t want to stop, they want to go back this week to other places. Unfortunately that may not happen due to the recent changes in social distancing.”

Lukenbill Wiles said she wanted to encourage messages of love and positivity instead of fear during this unprecedented novel coronavirus crisis.

“I myself am tired of the negativity and fear being spread all over social media,” she said, “human decency is still alive and well and it’s time to put our focus on spreading kindness.”

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Roxanne Fanning organized a parade that brightened the spirits of the residents in the facility.