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Making music at nursing homes


© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 26, 2001

Virginia M. Donahue moved to Clearwater in 1993 and decided that one of the rewards of retirement was to sit leisurely, with a cup of coffee, and read the newspaper from end to end. It was this activity that introduced her to the St. Petersburg Times Seniority section. Donahue read an article about a nurse who played the piano at nursing homes, volunteering her time.

She read with great interest -- for she also played the piano -- and said to herself, "I can do that!" She cut out the article and a few months later, she contacted the Retired Senior Volunteer Program.

RSVP receives numerous requests for volunteers to work in offices or gift shops, tutor/mentor children, visit patients and residents, etc.

Donahue's conversation regarding a volunteer placement with RSVP staff went like this:

Staff: "What do you do?"

Donahue: "I play the piano."

Staff: "Do you type?"

Donahue: "No, I play the piano."

Staff: "Well, do you file? What about bookkeeping?"

Donahue: "No, I play the piano."

Staff: "Oh, you play the piano! We have just the spot for you."

"And indeed they did," Donahue said. "My first gig was in St. Petersburg, followed by three more nursing homes. By 1999, I decided that concentrating my efforts in one nursing home would be best. I now play three to four times a month at Bon Secours Maria Manor. I am very involved with my parish now, and this works well for me.

"I can honestly say that I get a great deal of joy from this effort. I have a loyal group of resident followers, and we have a lot of fun together -- from accompanying me on a harmonica to strumming or dancing in the aisles! I urge any and all readers to pick up the phone, call RSVP and join the parade... I know that more volunteers are needed. We have lots of fun."

Virginia was born in Methuen, Mass., in the Merrimac Valley, historically famous for its cotton and woolen mills and shoes. She graduated from Emmanuel College with an A.B. degree. Employment included Boston State Hospital, Tufts University Medical School, RCA Missile & Electronic Systems and IBM Corp.

"I love music, playing the piano, and I particularly enjoy watching the residents tap their toes, singing along to the music," Donahue said. "Some even get up and dance. It amazes me no end to see that these elderly residents know all the words to anything I play, and I pride myself on knowing a century's worth of popular music. I do not play classical. I characterize myself a "barroom piano player.' I would have been a big hit 150 years ago in the wild, wild West!"

- Betty Hayward is the director of the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program in Pinellas County. You can write to her c/o Seniority, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

To volunteer

For more information regarding volunteer opportunities, contact the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) at 3443 First Ave. N, St. Petersburg (727-327-8690, ext. 22) or the Martin Luther King Center, 1201 Martin Luther King Ave., Clearwater (727-443-1916). Office hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays. RSVP recruits and places volunteers age 55 and older with agencies that use their skills and expertise.

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