BENNINGTON -- A large donation from Manchester Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6471 has enabled the Vermont Veterans' Home to expand its Namaste program.

This included buying furnishings for the Namaste room, which has a scenic view of the landscape and pond in back of the home.

"For those of you who don't know the history of Namaste, ‘Namaste' is Hindu for ‘honoring the spirit within,' and several years ago a consultant, Joyce Simard, worked with the staff at the Veterans' Home to do a Namaste at Freedom Village and that program has gone international," said Veterans' Home CEO Melissa Jackson at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the room on Sunday.

"We've had incredible success with this program, giving non-pharmacological intervention to anxiety, dementia behaviors, and we're finding that for our individuals with a mental illness or MS, the soothing environment helps their symptoms as well," Jackson said.

"Our wish list, after our geothermal project ended, was to make this room used more than it was, and the VFW came to us," she said.

According to a booklet available at the event, the mission of the Namaste Living program at the home is to capture positive responses in the Namaste environment during sensory, reminisce, and relaxation therapies; to "utilize and set up (a) pleasant environment and encourage staff and family participation in a quite atmosphere;" the foremost goals are respect, dignity and pain management.


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Col. Al Faxon, chief operating officer of the Veterans' Home, said the Manchester VFW wanted to do something for the veterans.

"And I said, ‘How about if I come up and give you a quick presentation on something that we're sorely lacking, something that we've wanted to do, because we have a Namaste room on the other side of the building," he said. "Once I showed them what we would like to do, they jumped right on board with it and $40,000 -- some of it we haven't spent yet."

The room has new, comfortable-looking furniture, art on the walls, a rug and soon will have custom-fitted drapes for the large windows.

"But beyond that they have purchased new couches and recliners throughout the building, because we had some pretty old stuff and there's not a lot of money for capital development," Faxon said.

Working with the Vermont Country Store, the Manchester post also got the home some couch and recliner covers.

"You won't believe how this will benefit our veterans and members that live here," Faxon said. "These are the types of things...that really help us serve our veterans well."

Veterans' Home Trustee Brenda Cruickshank, an official with the state VFW, said the post received a national award because of this donation to the home.

Rein Tofer, commander of Manchester Post 6471, said it built up a fund of $60,000 and out of this they donated $40,000.

The post's members voted to use the majority of that money to benefit their fellow veterans instead of spreading smaller amounts around.

Said Jackson, "Every year they come to us and ask what we need, and we give them a wish list and they graciously pull from our wish list what we need and are right there to support us."

Joseph Krawczyk, president of the Home's Board of Trustees, said the home is not part of the Veterans Administration, and only occasionally gets grants from the VA for capital projects. "It's so important that the local community organizations, the service organizations and fraternal organizations contribute so much."

He also noted contributions from the Bennington VFW post and companies like Home Depot, which gave the home $10,000 for construction of an outside deck.

"That is so important to us here at the Vermont State Veterans Home," Krawczyk said. "As you all know...we struggle every year, and we go up to the legislature with our hand out to make sure we have enough money to take care of the veterans we have here."

More about Namaste

Joyce Simard recently wrote to the Vermont Veterans' Home to report on positive progress on spreading Namaste care in Europe, including approval of a grant to implement Namaste Care in the Netherlands.

"Please let the Bennington people who helped start Namaste Care that they are responsible for improving end-of-life care for people with dementia all over the world," Simard wrote.

According to Simard's website, she originally developed this type of care for nursing home residents with advanced dementia.

She felt the definition of Namaste --"honoring the spirit within" -- "was a perfect name for people who, as their verbal abilities diminish, can no longer tell you who they were and who they still are."

Namaste Care is a seven-day-a-week program where residents receive meaningful activities through a "loving touch" approach, Simard wrote.

"Usually led by a nursing assistant," she added, "Namaste Care has enhanced the lives of people with advanced dementia or who are at the end stage of any illness by providing a peaceful, non-isolating environment throughout the day that allows them to end their lives with dignity and tranquility. Staff and families have also benefited from its comforting effects."

Reach Mark E. Rondeau at mrondeau@benningtonbanner.com. Twitter: @banner_religion