December 14, 2002
Churches, volunteers form special bond decorating hospital Christmas trees
By Lisa Uzzle Gates
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—In the halls of the Methodist Rehabilitation Center they are affectionately known as “the ladies from Vaughn” and “the ladies from Vicksburg.”
While the hospital has volunteers from all around the metro area, there are two special groups that come out in full force during the holiday season to decorate a total of 15 Christmas trees in the hospital waiting rooms and various offices. They arrive with boxes and boxes of ornaments, many handmade, and descend on the trees like so many busy elves. When they leave, the patients and staff know the Christmas season has arrived.
“We always look forward to having the volunteers decorate the trees. It means a lot to the patients and their families to have that cheerful reminder of Christmas,” said Ella Peyton, a technician on the brain injury floor at the Jackson hospital. The tree on the brain injury floor is decorated with a collection of teddy bears donated by volunteer Gaye Brown of Vaughan, including bears dressed like a lady bug, a doctor and the three wise men.
The decorating tradition started with the volunteers in 1976. Many of them were already making handmade crafts for an annual fund-raising bazaar benefiting the hospital, and they decided to begin making many of the ornaments for the trees, Olga Ewing, of Vaughan, remembers.
“It just spilled over to decorating the trees. The majority of the decorations are still handmade,” said Ewing, who began volunteering at the hospital in 1976. All those ornaments required a lot of work, so Ewing and others appealed to the ladies group at their church, Ellison United Methodist Church in Vaughan. That began a relationship between the church and the hospital that has grown stronger through the years.
Jerry Moore is one of the hospital’s original volunteers and a member of Ellison United Methodist Church. She has been a regular volunteer through the years and, at 86, continues to come once a month. Her dedication did not go unnoticed by her daughter, Mary Agnes Westbrook of Vicksburg who got her church, Gibson Memorial United Methodist Church involved in making the ornaments. It’s become a tradition for both churches and has brought many volunteers into the hospital, some of whom volunteer throughout the year and others who pitch in at Christmas, and even more who simply help with making the ornaments.
“I had a lady who is a regular volunteer explain it this way; she said “I can’t do therapy to help these patients get better, but this is one thing I can do to make it more cheerful for them,” Westbrook said.
The job of making the ornaments, decorating the trees, and then packing them away for the next year, is time consuming, especially during the busy holiday season. But the volunteers say it’s well worth the time.
“All you have to do is just look into the eyes of one patient and you know it’s time well spent,” said Lydia Ellison of Vaughan, who along with her husband, David, has been a regular volunteer for about 10 years. David Ellison and Hilary Westbrook, husband of volunteer Mary Agnes Westbrook, are in charge of putting the trees up, then they step back and let the ladies take over.
Sandra Walker, director of volunteer services, said the volunteers are a help to the patients all year, but it’s even more important at Christmas.
“It’s hard on the patients and their families to be in the hospital during this time of year. The trees offer them some comfort and joy,” Walker said. “It’s a real labor of love and the patients know that.”
Other volunteers participating in the tree decorations are; Zena Arnold and Suzie Bull from Benton; from Vaughan – Jeanette Brister, Virginia Dixon, Helen Moore, Harrison and Betty Moore, John Paul and Sylvia Westbrook, Ruth Golden, and John Kelly Moore; from Vicksburg - Nancy Ballard, Beth Johnson, Brenda Nicks, Mary Elizabeth Smith, Mary Sue Walker, Bradford Walker, Betty Neilson.
For more information:
Orley Hood: Volunteers spread the cheer of the season | The Clarion-Ledger
Gaye Brown of Vaughan hangs a Teddy bear on a Christmas tree on the fifth floor at Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson. Brown is one of about 20 volunteers who decorate 15 trees each year at the hospital.
Mary Agnes Westbrook and Mary Elizabeth Smith are two of 20 volunteers who donate their time to decorate 15 Christmas trees at Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson. The angel ornaments on this tree are all handmade.