As millions of Americans sheltered at home because of COVID-19, many slowed down and re-engaged with loved ones and old hobbies. But at the Ruth M. Smith Center in Sheffield, Pa., the 28 physically and mentally challenged residents — many without family and all considered part of the vulnerable population — suddenly found themselves secluded without visitors or short excursions off the property.
Although the Smith Center had serving children and youth since it was given to Women's Home Missionary Society in 1922, when state hospitals and facilities serving the mentally and physically challenged closed in surrounding counties— McKean, Crawford, Venango, Butler, Clarion, Elk, Erie, Forest, and Potter — the Smith Center in Warren County opened its doors in 2012 to those individuals who needed a home where they could receive care.
The coronavirus pandemic presented new challenges for the center, already working on a shoestring budget. Volunteers who regularly gave their time were closed out. Executive director Kim Adams worried about the psychological effect of the lock-down on the residents.
Tory hadn’t seen his mother since February and was feeling stir-crazy. “I want to go out to dinner with my mother and sister,” he said. But in the midst of the uncertainty and stress, Tory resolved to fill his days with music, a little TV, sewing, and artwork. “I have lost 10 pounds since this thing started in March,” he said about his new health focus.
Residents’ responses surprised the director. “They have been amazing—from the start everyone had a better understanding than I expected. We jelled, we pulled together like a team!” Adams said.
Residents use the seclusion positively to teach themselves and each other new skills. Chris, a four-year resident, spends her time drawing, working puzzles, and doing needlework.
“I’m a great aunt, you know. I look forward to being with the kids. I will take a good walk around to see the flowers and everything else in spring,” she said. But in the meantime, she teaches other residents to sew. “It’s not easy,” she confessed.
“I have been learning how to read using my Bible — that’s the good coming out of all this for me,” said Robert, an 8-year resident who explained that the pandemic made him think about life and what he wanted to do. In five years, Robert says he will look back and remember, “How good it was. How good I was treated.”
N one of the residents pay their full way, so creating this environment on a tight budget is a challenge. “We rely on benevolent giving for approximately 1/3 of our budget,” says board president Diane Miller. “But we give people with mental and physical challenges a place to call home when many others closed because of budgetary constraints. We feel blessed to do this.”
On Wednesday, May 20, from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., people can support Smith Center residents with mental and physical challenges through the “Warren Gives” campaign at warrengives.org. Donations are always welcome by mail to: Ruth M. Smith Center, 407 S Main St, Sheffield, PA 16347 or online at https:// www.ruthmsmithcenter.org