Nursing home residents make rosaries for around the world


January 21, 2011
FRANCONIA- It was Donna Cunningham of the Catholic Daughters of the Americas who came to the Franconia Lafayette Nursing Home looking for a group who might want to help her make rosaries for people around the world, but even she couldn't have predicted how popular it would be.

"I wasn't doing anything at the church, and thought, 'Why don't I try to get something started at the nursing home," said Cunningham, who started the program up in 2007.

Lafayette's Recreation Director Carol Bogat was nervous about the manual dexterity and eyesight that is required to string such small beads, but she thought it was worth a try. Creative fixes such as small carpet samples donated from Tile, Etc. to stop runaway beads and nail polish at the end of strings to stiffen the thin strands and make them more visible helped the process along. The Catholic Daughters of the Americas Court Bellefleur 1208, of which Cunningham is a part, provides the string and beads.

"It was supposed to be one hour, one time a month," said Cunningham. "Now, it's two hours, four times a month."

Bogat credits the popularity of the program to the feeling of achievement the residents get when they take part in the rosary-making counting the rosaries at the end of each session is one of the residents' favorite parts.

"It's a very popular activity because the ladies feel like they are accomplishing something for someone. They can see the fruits of their labor. It's not just busy work," said Bogat.

So far, the nursing home residents have completed over 5,000 rosaries to send all over the world. The brightly colored rosaries go to missions in developing countries, while the camouflage ones strung with black and brown beads are sent to American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The residents hail from all over, and often tell stories as they work. Some, from their time in the North Country Resident Rita Cascadden ran an assisted living home in Littleton before moving to Lafayette and some from a bit further away Dragica Strumpf was born in the former Yugoslavia.

"She's a great storyteller," said Cunningham of Strumpf who sometimes regales the group with stories. Before moving to America in the 1940s, Strumpf was separated from her family as a girl and spent some time in a German labor camp during World War II.

The rosary-makers also often break out into song to pass the time. Favorites include Christmas songs during the holiday season and railroad songs the rest of the year, said Cunningham.

The program, which is also done at Morrison's in Whitefield, recently won a group volunteer award from the New Hampshire Health Care Consortium, but that doesn't seem to be what the participants care about a letter from one of the military units that received the rosaries was talked about for days.

"It does make you feel better: helping people who need help," said Resident Dave Carpenter, the self-described "new kid on the block" who has only been at Lafayette since November, but who quickly found a place at the rosary-making table.

For Cunningham, who traveled around the world with the Air Force for 22 years as a nurse, a rosary is the gift that keeps on giving.

"A rosary never runs out," she said.

And as the residents of Lafayette Nursing Home broke into a rendition of "I'll Be Working on the Railroad," it became obvious that those who receive the rosaries are not the only ones who have benefited from Cunningham's idea she has found a way to help people around the world by helping people close to home.

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