SPRING HILL — For almost two months, many residents of the county’s assisted living homes have only seen their families through the gaze of a video screen until, like most businesses, they “got creative.”
Traditions of Spring Hill, located off Miles Johnson Parkway, held a special community event Friday for its residents. Relatives, citizens and public leaders were invited to drive their cars out, show their love and interact with the city’s elderly for the first time since the public became confined to their homes and without any true face-to-face contact.
Although no hands were held, hugs made or kisses shared among the dozens of residents who sat out, many greeted the dozens of drivers holding signs they made with messages from “We love you, we miss you, but don’t worry, I’m okay,” to “Please send chocolate.”
Traditions’ Executive Director Mike Leebron said the event was created to have a way for families to see their loved ones, but doing it in a way that also abided by social distancing recommendations of staying at least six feet apart, wearing protective masks and sanitizing regularly.
The Traditions staff wasn’t sure what the turnout would be, given the current climate with elderly patients among the demographic of most at-risk in contracting, and possibly dying, from the COVID-19 virus. By the end, dozens of cars had lined up along Miles Johnson Parkway, repeatedly circling the facility’s parking lot, honking their horns and waiving.
“There was really no mechanism for these families to see their loved ones,” Leebron said.
“They’ve been trapped in there a long time, since March and it’s spring. We thought, with the weather being nice, to give the residents a little ‘pick-me-up.’ We’ve had some FaceTime calls and things like that, but this is fun for them, and one of our activities was asking our residents to decorate signs, that their families paint their cars and just have fun with it.”
In addition to several family members and friends, Spring Hill fire and police also brought their vehicles out to show their support, as did Mayor Rick Graham and State Rep. Sam Whitson.
“These people haven’t seen their families in seven weeks. I didn’t anticipate for this to be this big, but this is a good thing, and right now we need to be celebrating, like that [Kool & The Gang] song, ‘Celebration,’ should be blaring out here right now.” Graham said.
“That’s what I really feel for the community, that we are in that celebratory feeling, and this is what that feels like. We should be doing this citywide., because we need more of these events, and as each week goes by we’re more and more free to do things. Maybe it’ll spread, and this is a good place to start.”
Stephanie Cooksey, Traditions’ Director of Wellness, added that she also hopes more assisted living facilities in the community host events like this, because the biggest joy for many of the residents is the time they can spend with their families, their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, time they have not had in almost two months.
“I’m filled with a lot of love right now, because for many of these folks, some of them have not seen their families in weeks. It helps them to know that people in the community care,” Cooksey said. “We’ve had people just crying tears of happiness, and it’s just an interesting way to express the social distancing guidelines, and be creative with them. A lot of the residents have really been looking forward to the parade, and they couldn’t wait.”