When Nancy Lewis first arrived at Altrusa House, the facility gave off an institutional impression. The walls were gray, and the program was flat. As the new director, Nancy knew she had to make deep changes. She and her husband painted the interior walls in soft colors friendly to Alzheimer’s patients and revamped the wheelchair accessible garden and gazebo. She then delved into program research, moving Altrusa House into more therapeutic and person-centered programing. Nancy proudly calls her hard work “Altrusa House 2.0.”
The Altrusa House is a day healthcare facility for adults, administered by Easter Seals, the leading provider of disability services in the country. Originally developed as a transitional place between home and hospital, the program now focuses on providing therapeutic, educational and social support and activities for those who would otherwise spend their days at home. It strives to serve both members and their families, as the program creates time for caregivers to work or rest. Altrusa House caters to the frail, elderly and disabled, including the intellectually disabled of all ages. They work with stroke victims, oxygen-dependent adults, dementia and Alzheimer’s patients and more.
Most recently, Altrusa House partnered with the Alzheimer’s Association to develop support groups for dementia patients and their caregivers. Held the first Thursday of every month at noon, the groups serve as a safe place for caregivers and those suffering from the disease to share and vent. Additionally, Altrusa House is partnering with the Alzheimer’s Association to facilitate the Making Memories Program, which also involves early-stage dementia patients and their caregivers. During the eight-week program, an artist taps into the participants’ long-term memory by helping them create artwork across a range of topics. At the end of the program, a gala is planned to display the members’ artwork.
Each day at Altrusa House consists of about five to eight activities, including exercise, watercolors, Wii, a book club and other exciting activities. Altrusa House welcomes musicians, such as New Beginnings flute trio, who engage members with instruments and music from the 1930s and 40s. Altrusa House holds events with the Harn Museum of Art, local homeschoolers and Gainesville Physical Therapy and Wellness. A well-traveled Altrusan, Nancy Holt, even hosts a travel program where she speaks about the different countries she’s visited.
Nancy Lewis has also implemented an educational program at Altrusa House. “They still want to learn and be intrigued,” she said. “It’s another way to respect the aging population.”
The Red Cross has presented on hurricane preparedness, the Gainesville Police Department spoke about crime prevention and financial safety and two representatives from the tax collector’s office spoke to an engaged and curious audience for two hours about different taxes and forms.
With no waiting list, Altrusa House is incredibly affordable at $61.50 a day and can offer scholarships based on need. Attendance at Altrusa House is flexible, with no contract or long-term commitment – just 24-hour notice prior to attendance once the application has been completed.
“I know I’m improving their quality of life while they’re here and the quality of life that their caregivers have,” Nancy said. “The older I’ve gotten, I realized I was made to serve other people.”
Altrusa House programming is engaging, respectful, informative and supportive. But, what really makes Altrusa House special is the dedicated staff and volunteers who give their all to the members each and every day.
By Paige Thies