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Community volunteers help Rice Care Center residents decorate cookies for holiday season

Pearl McPhail, from left, Jackie Hinderks and Agnes Hanson apply icing to holiday cookies Monday at Rice Care Center in Willmar. Volunteers joined the residents of the nursing home as part of a United Way of West Central Minnesota initiative to promote community involvement among emerging young leaders. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR - Hands young and old spread colorful icing on holiday cookies Monday at the Rice Care Center. Trays quickly filled with dozens of star- and cloud-shaped cookies frosted in blue, green, pink and yellow and dusted with sprinkles. For volunteers and nursing home residents, it was an occasion to savor a favorite Christmas tradition together.

"Everybody's got to get into the Christmas spirit," said Allison Liden-Dirksen, activities director at the Rice Care Center.

The project brought together the nursing home's residents and half a dozen volunteers through ADVANCE, a United Way of West Central Minnesota initiative to promote community involvement among emerging young leaders.

Gina Lieser, resource development director with the regional United Way, called Monday's cookie-decorating session a "speed" opportunity for members of ADVANCE to donate a couple of hours of volunteer time.

The work started Friday night with rolling out, cutting and baking 240 cookies.

Light snow fell outside the windows Monday morning as the United Way volunteers and several Rice Care Center residents, some in wheelchairs, frosted and decorated the cookies.

Residents were looking forward to it, Liden-Dirksen said. "They were talking about it all morning."

Intergenerational activities that bring new faces to the nursing home are welcomed, she said. "A lot of times over the holidays, it's nice for the residents to get someone else to visit."

Especially when it's an activity that triggers happy memories.

"They're still able to participate in a holiday tradition and feel they're continuing a pastime," Liden-Dirksen said. "You can have a lot of different levels of ability to do this. Everyone can do it."

Troy Barrick, administrator of the Rice Care Center, said a group of residents made lefse, the traditional Scandinavian flatbread, the week before.

"We definitely learn a lot about traditions and history," he said.

While reminiscing about Christmases past and their favorite cookie recipes, the residents worked fast, decorating all 240 cookies in half an hour. ADVANCE volunteers then packaged them on paper plates for distribution to all the Rice Care Center residents. Leftovers were set aside for the nursing home's coffee hour.

It's the type of project that ADVANCE hopes to do more of in the future. The initiative, which was launched this past August, is for young adults ages 21-40 who are poised to move into community leadership positions.

Volunteer opportunities each month allow them to network with each other and get to know local nonprofit organizations.

"Our first project was a cleanup at Robbins Island," Lieser said. "We had our strategic planning meeting in September."

Four large group volunteer events will be held each year, she said. Next spring, for instance, ADVANCE is planning a makeover of a selected nonprofit agency.

The volunteers Monday said it was a chance to do something different and contribute to the community.

"There's more out there than just work every day," said Jackie Hinderks.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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