Contributed by Arbor Springs Health and Rehab Center

Despite the challenges of this year, the season of hope is in full swing at Arbor Springs Health & Rehab Center, thanks to friends in the community who have gone out of their way to raise holiday spirits for residents and staff.

•  Thalamus LLC, an electrical and data contractor, arrived with a bucket truck to help Arbor Springs hang a wreath above its front door.

•  Opelika High School’s horticulture program decked Arbor Springs’ halls with poinsettias that had been planted and nurtured by students since August.

•  Residents at the Springs of Mill Lakes, a nearby retirement community, sent holiday cards to Arbor Springs residents and are providing “caregiver survivor kits” for every member of the Arbor Springs staff.

The infusion of holiday cheer couldn’t be more welcome – or more timely.

While a vaccine is imminent and will soon be administered to residents, COVID-19 remains a threat and continues to limit activities residents typically enjoy at this time of the year, including visits with family, friends, church groups and other community organizations.

“We’re trying to keep the cheer level up,” said Cheri Place-Chaffin, the director of nursing at Arbor Springs. “But the staff is tired. Residents are too. That’s why it means so much for our community to show up and remind us that we are not forgotten.”

The lit wreath above the entrance set the tone. The spot for the wreath is a little out of ladder reach, and it had been a few years since Arbor Springs had risked attempting to put it up. But, Place-Chaffin said, “We decided this was not the year to go without.”

A Thalamus employee with family ties at Arbor Springs asked his company’s owner, Allen Conradi, for help. Conradi did not hesitate. He showed up with a bucket truck and put up the wreath himself.

“We just know so many folks connected to Arbor Springs,” Conradi said. “Any way we can help and brighten their spirits, we’re glad to do it.”

The same inspiration led Ginny Gaberlavage, who teaches horticulture at Opelika High, to offer up her students’ poinsettias to Arbor Springs. The plants are usually sold as a fund-raiser for the horticulture program. Gaberlavage believed they would be better used this year to provide holiday décor at Arbor Springs.

“We just dropped them off because it was a terrible, terrible, terrible year,” she said. “We didn’t do it for recognition. We just wanted to give back.”

The same goal inspired residents at the Springs of Mills Lakes retirement community to rally around a project to send Christmas cards to Arbor Springs residents and put together “caregiver survival kits” for members of the staff.

“Everyone likes getting mail,” said Christy Lucas, a Mill Lake resident who helped organize the efforts. “We all have an extra Christmas card and stamp.”

The caregiver kits for staff are filled with little gifts that carry big messages – including Lifesavers “to remind you how many times you have been one,” a safety pin “to keep you safe” and a matchbook “to light your fire when you feel burnt out.”

Lucas said the kits are an acknowledgment of the staff’s past efforts and an encouragement to keep going.

“They have been in the trenches throughout this,” she said. “I wish I had a million dollars so I could give them everything. But this is just a little ‘happy’ to let them know that they are very much appreciated.”

Place-Chaffin said Arbor Springs has appreciated community support throughout the COVID-19 crisis. But the touches are especially critical now, as vaccines bring welcome hope but not an immediate end to the pandemic.

“We can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but the next couple of months could still be really, really tough,” she said. “We appreciate people helping us light up Arbor Springs this year and encouraging us to hang in there as we approach 2021. Next Christmas will be different.”