For a group of residents at Oregon City’s Gilman Park Assisted Living, January is all about cats. The residents have spent this month making fleece blankets and catnip toys for felines in the Cat Adoption Team shelter in Sherwood, while at the same time collecting donations of household goods and clothing for the CAT thrift store in Raleigh Hills.

by: PHOTO BY SHER JOHNSON - Gilman Park Assisted Living resident Lela Miller teams up with lunch buddy Korrina, a fifth grader at Gaffney Lane Elementary School, to make cozy cat blankets for felines living in the Cat Adoption Team Shelter in Sherwood.  “There are so many cat lovers in this building, and we have a house cat named Squeaky, so we decided to focus on cats this month,” said Sher Johnson, the life enrichment coordinator at Gilman Park.

In addition to the craft projects and donations, residents, staff and their families also have been collecting cat food for the shelter. Johnson is now thinking about starting a kitten-fostering program, she said, noting that many residents could not take on full-time cat ownership, but could have a kitten for a little while.

People and cats benefit

Johnson puts together enrichment programs each month, usually with a theme. This month residents created cuddly cat blankets and play toys, which was good for the dexterity of the participants, she said.

There are other benefits to the craft projects.

“It is a social activity, so it gets residents out of their rooms, and they feel there is a reason they are doing this — to give back to the community. They also get a sense of accomplishment,” she said.

Resident James Presby and his wife, Dorothea, spent about an hour last week attaching bells to the corners of the blankets, to create a playful touch for the cats in the shelter.

“We are interested in cats and animal rights, and we take any chance we can get to help make things nicer for the animals. It is also fun to do,” James Presby said.

Jeanne Perine, another resident, said the blankets and catnip toys were such a wonderful idea that she was going to try them out on her own cat, Lila.

ABC program

The monthly craft programs are not the only ones that residents are involved in, said Julie Dunn, community relations director at Gilman Park.

“We have a program called Awesome Brilliant Children, and we partner with Gaffney Lane Elementary School. This intergenerational program allows our residents, who have spent their whole lives giving back to the community, a chance to work with young people who are just beginning the process of giving back,” she said.

Each month six to 10 residents from Gilman Park eat lunch and chat with a small group of fifth-graders at Gaffney Lane. This month the young people helped make blankets for the cat shelter.

“It was so much fun working with the children and they loved it. They are wonderful children, and I look forward to seeing them,” Perine said.

“In addition to the Lunch Buddies program, we do fundraisers for the school and donate money for things like anti-bullying programs or transportation for field trips,” Dunn said.

Twice a year the young people come to visit Gilman Park; in December the entire fifth-grade class came and sang Christmas carols, Dunn said.

The Lunch Buddy program began last year, when the students were in the fourth grade, and at first they were quite shy, Johnson said.

“But that changed once they started talking to the residents about something they had in common, and quite often it is about pets.”

Johnson added: “It is really fun to get older folks together with kids. They really light up. And last month when the kids came here, more residents signed up for the Lunch Buddy program. It gets them doing something purposeful and meaningful.”

Donations of cat food are being accepted at Gilman Park Assisted Living during the entire month of January. Drop off bags of cat food at 2205 Gilman Drive, Oregon City. For more information, call 503-657-5700.

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