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Nursing home volunteer shares gift of music for 16 years

By Kristen Smith, Special to QMI Agency

Helen MacEachern has been volunteering at the Collingwood Nursing Home for 16 years, playing piano for the residents. Kristen Smith/Collingwood Enterprise-Bulletin

Helen MacEachern has been volunteering at the Collingwood Nursing Home for 16 years, playing piano for the residents. Kristen Smith/Collingwood Enterprise-Bulletin

Helen MacEachern doesn't just entertain nursing home residents with her piano performances; she helps those with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease express themselves through songs from their past.

MacEachern is the Collingwood Nursing Home's longest-standing volunteer.

"They're half-asleep when I get here, and when I leave they're clapping (and smiling)," said MacEachern, who has been volunteering at the home for 16 years, playing piano for the residents monthly.

"It's a gift I have and I want to share it with people," said MacEachern, adding it makes her happy, especially sharing her talent with older people.

"It's good mentally and physically, because sometimes they moves different parts of their body in time with the music," she said.

Activity director Bev Cloutier says the music is like sensory therapy, even if there's just a toe moving your know they are enjoying and responding to the music.

"Helen is very warm and patient -she always tries to remember names," said Cloutier. "She makes each and every resident feel very special."

She says MacEachern connect the residents to the world outside the nursing home.

"I've never had a patient who didn't like (MacEachern)," said Cloutier, adding she is also very funny.

She says the residents look forward to MacEachern's arrival.

MacEachern, who has been playing piano since she was six years old, has shared her talent in a number of nursing homes in the area. She used to play for the Collingwood Nursing Home residents once a week, before she had to cut down her visits.

"I think Collingwood Nursing Home is a very important place for her," said Cloutier, adding the nursing home values her as well.

"She's like part of the family," she said.

MacEachern says she thinks her father would have been proud of what she's doing, because he always regarded her musical ability as a gift.

She says she has gotten to know a lot of the residents over the years.

MacEachern recalls one gentleman who used to play harmonica with her and has since passed.

She says one man was watching her play with a baseball cap on, when she started playing Almigthy Father Strong to Save, the Navy hymn, he took it off and brought it to his chest.

"He knew what it was - it was so touching," she said.

-Do you know someone in the South Georgian Bay area who is an unsung hero? Let us know about exceptional people in your community by calling Kristen Smith at 705-445-4611 ext. 223, or emailing kristen.smith@sunmedia.ca



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