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A Tradition of Giving

St. Otto's has a year-round commitment to the community

By Laura Kuhn

When the holidays roll around, many organizations start thinking about ways they can give back to the community. At St. Otto's Care Center in Little Falls, Minnesota, giving back isn't reserved for the holidays – their commitment to giving back to the community is in full swing year round.

Every member of the St. Otto's family is dedicated to giving back, from the facility's DON to its residents, staff and the volunteers who donate their time. Their story illustrates how thinking of others can reap immeasurable rewards.

Jeneva Bellefeuille, RNC

St. Otto's director of nursing, Jeneva Bellefeuille, began her nursing career at a hospital. She was inspired to move into long-term care by a "desire to really care for the elderly and make a difference in what I do," she said. "I felt that if I was in long-term care, I could help make a difference."

Bellefeuille is the current president of Minnesota Directors of Nursing Administration, or MN-DONA. She became involved with the group shortly after becoming a long-term care director of nursing and credits it with providing networking opportunities, support and a way to keep on top of current issues in long-term care.

"With MN-DONA, one of our mission statements is ‘leadership, excellence, education,' " Bellefeuille said. "This is so important. You have to educate yourself on the best practices and what's going on. We also want to be that organization to provide advocacy for our members and also for the people and communities that we serve."

St. Otto's gives back

Every year, St. Otto's hosts multiple events to raise money for the local Morrison County Food Shelf. Every March, the facility has a friendly floor-by-floor competition to raise money for the organization. Each floor organizes their own fundraising events, and the floor that raises the most money is declared the winner.

"This is an annual thing that we've done for years," said Bellefeuille. "It benefits needy people within the community who need help with keeping food on their tables. The staff members really enjoy it, and the residents have fun doing it."

This past March, the staff, residents and volunteers raised money for the Food Shelf with chili and brat lunches, a silent auction, a month-long "garage sale" and by selling goodies including fresh caramel rolls, baked items, popcorn and root beer floats.

At the end of the month, the third floor was declared the winner after raising $1,320. The second floor raised $1,213, the first floor raised $879.56 and residents chipped in an additional $143.05. The third floor claimed the floating plaque that travels to each year's fundraising winner.

Last year, in addition to the competition, St. Otto's took up a collection to provide a Thanksgiving meal for a needy family in the community. They raised money to purchase a dinner with all of the trimmings, including a turkey, dressing, potatoes, canned yams and cranberries.

Dedicated volunteers

St. Otto's also has more than 100 dedicated volunteers who give freely of their time and talents. These volunteers vary in age and play many roles throughout the facility.

During the summer months, St. Otto's has a Junior Volunteer program through which young people in the community spend time with residents and staff. The Junior Volunteers often play games with the residents or spend time outside enjoying the summer sunshine together. Many of these young volunteers form close friendships with the residents.

Older volunteers at St. Otto's help with activities such as arts and crafts, bingo, birthday parties, musical entertainment and dances. They also assist with spiritual services and push a small "store on wheels" around to residents so that they can purchase items such as candy, magazines and cards.

St. Otto's also hosts an annual Volunteer Recognition Dinner to thank the people who give their time to the facility. The theme of this year's dinner, which was attended by more than 100 people, was "One Person Can Make a Difference."

Making the holidays special

St. Otto's is always decorated to reflect the current season, but Bellefeuille reports that the facility really goes all out during the holidays. Christmas trees can be found in every day room and lobby, including six trees that are decorated by community groups.

Volunteers work with the facility's owners to decorate for the holidays. Every resident room has a decoration placed on the door. The lobby is decorated from top to bottom, and that's where St. Otto's celebrates Christmas with its residents. The entire St. Otto's team gathers in each floor lobby on the day before Christmas Eve to watch the residents open their gifts, which are specially chosen for each resident by staff members. Family members are also invited to be a part of the fun at the facility that day.

Giving back to veterans

St. Otto's has been undergoing remodeling for the past few years, and they've saved a very special wing for last. Oriole Lane will honor residents who have served in the armed forces.

"Our community is home to one of the larger National Guard centers, Camp Ripley," said Bellefeuille. "We have a lot of veterans in the area, and it was a goal of our owners to dedicate one lane of the facility to our veterans."

Oriole Lane will be decorated to reflect the experiences of its residents. The residents will also participate in activities geared toward their military service.

Vets at St. Otto's are also honored on Veterans Day, when the facility is bedecked with American flags and Camp Ripley's commander comes in to speak. Each veteran at the facility is also given a certificate of appreciation recognizing their service.

A year-round dedication to the community

Whether it's through raising money for the Food Shelf or taking the time to celebrate their residents during the holidays, St. Otto's is always dedicated to giving back. Bellefeuille spoke not only for herself, but for the entire St. Otto's family, when she said, "As nursing facilities, we're really serving our communities."