Some heroes wear capes. Others read bedtime stories to children all over the world.
Navy veteran Raymond Doonan, who keeps candy and dog treats in his room for particular visitors, is one such hero at West Shore Health Center in Warwick.
Dawn Sirois, the center’s activities director for the past 10 years, has paired its residents with children around the world through reading. When the threat of the coronavirus meant the end of the residents’ weekly book club, Facebook’s “Virtual Reading Heroes” drew Dawn in, and she knew she’d found the solution for her active readers, and a way to keep her residents connected to the greater community.
West Shore Health Center incorporates daily Skype, Zoom, Facebook and FaceTime family visits while the residents may not currently receive guests. Facebook’s Virtual Reading Heroes program seemed like a natural fit.
Raymond read aloud the inaugural book, the classic children’s story “Good Night Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown. Dawn posted the story time on Facebook, where it quickly racked up over 4,000 comments, and not from kids. “Not gonna lie. I cried,” one read. Another said: “A big kid LOVED this! He reminds me of my dad. Bless his heart!”
“You read someone, somewhere, a bedtime story!” Dawn told Ray with a smile. “His face lit up,” she said.
Ray, 89, has been a West Shore resident for the past three years, and as Dawn relates, lights up as soon as he hears the voices of kids or that a visitor has brought in a pet. He’s there with candy for the kids and treats for the dogs. She said Ray was a natural with the iPad, flipping it around so that his audience could see the illustrations of the story.
Ray said he grew up reading Dick Tracy books, and while he doesn’t have children of his own, he enjoys reading to children “because it makes them happy and smile.”
The center has other storytime readers, including Patricia LaPierre, originally from Pawtucket, who eventually settled in Woonsocket. Before retiring, Patricia worked as a certified nursing assistant in hospitals and nursing homes. In an extension of that nurturing spirit, Patricia read the rhyming book “Giraffes Can’t Dance” by Giles Andreae. It’s an inspiring story about how “We all can dance … when we find the music that we love,” an important message about self-esteem for her Facebook audience.
Gloria Greco, of Governor Francis, is another storybook reading hero. Gloria met her husband, Harold, while working in a jewelry factory, packing orders, before they married and raised their family. Today she is a member of both the Welcoming Committee and the Resident Council at West Shore Health Center. Gloria read the traditional children’s rhyme “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly” by Lucille Colandro – albeit with an alternate ending – for her young listeners on Facebook.
“The residents receive such joy watching live videos of children reading books to them,” which began after their schools closed due to the coronavirus. Now it’s their turn to read to the children. Explains Dawn, “I’ve felt and witnessed so many positive things from this crazy time. Something good always comes from something bad if you only open your eyes and heart.”
West Shore Health Center of Warwick is on Facebook. Listen to Raymond read “Good Night Moon” in the video section.