Geralyn Dunckelman was raised from childhood by her grandmother upon her mother’s passing. Geralyn’s grandmother provided her with much guidance and support throughout her lifetime, as well as eventually providing support for Geralyn’s two sons. She also taught the sons about faith and sat many hours sharing life’s experiences. She made a profound difference in all of their lives.
When she died at age 90, the Dunckelman family felt compelled to keep her memory alive through work with other elderly members of their community. Houma, like most communities in the United States, finds itself with an aging, lonely population. The grandmother’s life had taught them that they are all members of a family, bonded by the responsibility to meet the needs of others in unique ways. Thus, the Dunckelman family targeted local nursing homes and individuals confined to private houses to develop a service project, “Family Focus,” which would involve a combination of “mini” projects developed by each family member, but supported by the entire group.
The eldest son, 16 years old, started “SENSE-ible Service,” which attempts to stimulate the five senses of the elderly. For example, food is provided for taste, flowers are donated for smell, used eyeglasses are recycled for sight, visits with animals are made to stimulate the sense of touch, and visits with musical instruments promote audio stimulation. Countless youths and their families have supported this program.
In the words of the youngest son, age 11, “How can we have a future without a past?” After surveying nursing homes throughout our nation to determine the availability of fine arts programs in these homes, he began a program called Project FAME (Fine Arts Motivating the Elderly). His efforts have resulted in over one thousand youths and adults working together to collect over $100,000 in audiocassettes, videocassettes, and books. Sites in thirteen states were selected to receive these materials with local nursing homes being the primary recipients.
Mr. Dunckelman provides for the spiritual and holiday needs of local nursing home residents by uniting youths and their respective families for monthly prayer services. Further, holidays are characterized by costumed visits, bringing cheerful talk and gifts.
Mrs. Dunckelman’s project involves inter-generational reading, which pairs at-risk preschoolers for reading and friendship with nursing home residents. Over the years, she has witnessed the elimination of behavioral problems, the building of lasting friendships, people committing to a lifetime of altruistic activities, and the prideful looks of a hundred adopted grandparents. These visits, completed with the aid of the local school district, give them the needed reminder that in education, there lies an obligation to develop not only the minds, but also the character of our children.
Mrs. Dunckelman states that in the future, all activities will continue with love and appreciation for the elderly and others.