Home Away From Home

On the near north side, St. Ann Center is working to spark memories for people with dementia — and listening to the neighborhood’s needs too.

BY JEN KENT  |  PHOTOS BY DAVID SZYMANSKI

An unrelenting and stereotypically gloomy April rain shower has reared its ugly head outside, but the interior of St. Ann Center’s Bucyrus campus dementia care wing is warm, welcoming and reminiscent of days gone by.

Interior designer Patt Krejci and longtime supporter and Waukesha resident Leigh Peterson
Above: Various life skills stations spark memories for St. Ann’s Center’s dimentia patients.

Four life skills stations — each designed to spark memories of past hobbies for people with dementia — decorate the wing’s main common area, which connects two larger living rooms, and June Clayton, a St. Ann Center client, is standing in the station that resembles a nursery. She carefully picks up three baby dolls from the antique Jenny Lind crib and cradles them in her arms explaining that she herself was a triplet.

I wonder aloud how her mother juggled three babies, and Clayton’s face brightens at the mention of her mother.

Sister Edna Lonergan, St. Ann Center’s founder and president, says the life skills stations were designed specifically for clients with profound-stage dementia — a population prone to wandering. “You have to give [clients] the opportunity to wander; you can’t make them feel like they’re in prison,” explains Lonergan. “It has to be a wandering to back where they started. … The life stations are very important because they take [clients] to a period in their life that they still might remember and/or feel more comfortable with. … It’s a home away from home.”

To outfit the four stations, which also include a nostalgic kitchen, a workbench area and a sewing nook, Lonergan enlisted the help of longtime St. Ann Center supporter and Waukesha resident Leigh Peterson, whose aunt was a St. Ann Center client years ago. Peterson asked her close friend, interior designer Patt Krejci of Pewaukee, to assist with the project, and Krejci happily agreed. The pair spent months scouring antique stores, resale shops and estate sales, gradually piecing together each station and bringing Lonergan’s vision to life. “Sister Edna gave us direction, Patt embellished, and on we went,” says Peterson with a smile.

“It’s been a wonderful feeling to be able to give back talents this way,” Krejci adds.

This month St. Ann Center will also reveal its brand-new respite care center, which both Peterson and Krejci helped decorate. The center, explains Lonergan, will feature nine rooms and various care options, from overnight to daytime- or evening-only.

“Oftentimes, the caregivers will say to us, ‘I’d love to take care of my loved one — say, mom or dad — at home, but what happens when I get sick? Or need to go out of town? Or just need a little break?’” she adds. “They can leave their loved ones with us for up to 28 days. [The center] pretty well takes care of everyone.”

“Before we build anything,” Lonergan continues, “we listen to what the neighborhood wants. …  What do they feel they need? Would they like

an overnight respite? Would they like a place they can come during the day where they can feel safe and cared for or have their loved one cared for?”

Additional recently completed and forthcoming projects — including a safe walkway for both clients and their caregivers and an intergenerational playground — were inspired by neighborhood feedback, as was the overwhelmingly common request to create jobs for local residents, a promise often left unfulfilled by other businesses building nearby, says Lonergan.

“Ninety-two percent of our employees are from the neighborhood,” she adds.

To learn more about St. Ann Center or to donate items to the life skills stations, visit stanncenter.org. MKE

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