Plymouth Harbor first got involved with the Bay Haven School about nine years ago when residents Marian Kessler and BJ Peters volunteered to help start a food bank program for children below the poverty line, which grew into the Snack Pack Program. Plymouth Harbor residents have been large supporters of the program and school ever since.

Rockin’ Reader is a nation-wide kindergarten read-aloud program for volunteers. It was brought to Sarasota in 2004 by Longboat Key resident Ruthie Maass and is sponsored by the Junior League of Sarasota and Team Up. This program was designed to shrink the vocabulary gap among children by exposing them to high quality literature and rich language. Through this program, volunteers and participating school children meet one-on-one for 30 minutes once a week to read aloud and discuss the meanings of various books.

When the Sarasota County School Board chose Bay Haven to participate in this early reading initiative, Plymouth Harbor residents were quick to offer help. “The teaching staff at Bay Haven is special and always open to innovative ideas, so it was an ideal match for the program,” Marian Kessler said. Twelve residents committed and reading training specialists were sent here to prepare our residents for the program.

A child’s vocabulary upon entering kindergarten is a prime predictor of that child’s school success, but there is a large difference between those who come from higher versus lower socioeconomic levels – as great as 32 million words. According to the National Reading Panel, reading aloud to children is “the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading.” The Rockin’ Reader program aims to help close this vocabulary gap by providing children with more opportunities to hear and use new language, therefore expanding their vocabulary. Each 30-minute session is designed to give children an opportunity to talk about the meaning of the book, both before and after. Volunteers ask children comprehension questions and choose words from the story to go into further detail about. They discuss the meaning of the word and give children an opportunity to talk about what the story means to them.

Through this program, our residents are helping to instill the love of reading in our future leaders.

Barbara Kerr is a big-time animal lover. “I have always done charitable work through humane societies when I lived in Virginia, but when I moved to Plymouth Harbor I thought it was time to get away from dogs and cats and work with something I didn’t know anything about,” Barbara said. She spent nine years on the board of the Gloucester Mathews Humane Society, and now she spends her Tuesdays and Thursdays working to rehabilitate birds at Save Our Seabirds on Longboat Key.

Save our Seabirds Wild Bird Learning Center (SOS) is a non-profit wildlife conservation and education organization located on the former site of The Pelican Man’s Bird Sanctuary. Their mission is “to rescue, rehabilitate, and release injured birds, and to educate the public about nature and environmental sustainability,” according to www.saveourseabirds.org. Birds that have been rescued but are unable to be returned to the wild are given permanent homes in their Wild Bird Learning Center.

As an SOS volunteer, Barbara regularly checks in on a wide range of birds, from gulls and pelicans to crows and owls. “We don’t just take shore birds,” she said. “We take anything with feathers.” Over her two years of volunteering with SOS, Barbara estimates she has helped care for 50-60 birds.

Barbara’s volunteer station is in the baby bird hospital. She helps rescue, rehabilitate, and release young homeless and injured birds. When a young or injured bird is brought into the facility, it is first examined and treated by medical staff. Then the constant feeding begins. “To see how much they grow, even just from a Thursday to a Tuesday, is just amazing,” she said. When they are big enough, they graduate into the aviary until they can be released.

As a volunteer, Barbara also goes out on rescue missions and is the designated contact for Plymouth Harbor. “I like the hands-on stuff I get to do that gets you dirty,” she said. She once was called out to rescue a bird who was stuck in a water hazard on a golf course. When she arrived at the site, she found a Great Blue Heron who had exhausted himself trying to get out of the muck. Using a towel, she was able to calm the bird down, pull him out, and get him into the carrier case to bring him back to SOS. “Staff got some fluids in him and he was on his way,” she said. “I like when we are able to resolve the problem.” However, some birds are never able to be released. There are about 80 birds who live permanently in the Wild Bird Learning Center aviary, and visitors can walk through and learn about our native birds.

When it is time to release a bird back into the wild, volunteers will bring it back to where it was found, but some birds stay close by even after their release. Fred the crow is one of the birds who has stuck around. “He brings berries and food to the younger crows in one of our outside cages,” Barbara said. “It’s so touching to know that they are looking out for each other.”

Working with these birds as they move through the stages of rehabilitation reminds Barbara of the value of our elders. “I was on the younger side when I moved into Plymouth Harbor, and I was pleasantly surprised at the inspiration I get from those that are older than me,” Barbara said. “They challenge me to age with zest, and I get that same feeling watching these little birds. The young ones look at the older cohort of birds that have come before them, and I am so encouraged by this cycle of life.”

Every Tuesday on the Mezzanine, you can now find a competitive game of duplicate bridge going on. Organized under the American Contract Bridge League, Plymouth Harbor has recently started a sanctioned duplicate bridge game. Margaret Tominosky serves as the game’s certified director. She knows the laws of Duplicate Bridge and keeps track of points, which she then submits to the American Contract Bridge League. At these games, players earn master points which allow them to move up in rank. “People strive to become a life master, but there are more achievements beyond
that,” Margaret said.

There are currently eight Bridge tables set up, but that number is expected to grow to 10 or more when residents return during season. The Plymouth Harbor game is invitational, and all residents and Harbor Club members are invited to play. Residents and Harbor Club members may invite any guest they wish. There is an $8 fee per game per person. As our players amass points, there are opportunities for them to play at larger local, regional, and national tournaments.

Joyce Steele, resident, is a huge supporter of Duplicate Bridge and helped bring the sanctioned game to Plymouth Harbor. “When we moved to Plymouth Harbor six months ago, it seemed to me that the only thing missing in the vast amount of amenities that Plymouth provides was a sanctioned duplicate bridge game,” Joyce said. Joyce went on to interview many directors for the position, looking for someone who not only had the necessary abilities but who would also be a good teacher. “Margaret gave me a good deal of advice about directors that she knew and after many phone calls I told her the very best person for this job is her,” Joyce said. “When she said she would do it, I knew we had gotten the best director in seven counties for Plymouth Harbor.”

“There are many people at Plymouth Harbor for whom Bridge has been a huge part of their lives,” Margaret said. “To be able to play competitively without having to leave home is a wonderful opportunity.” Results of our games can be found online at Unit102.com, along with other local clubs, results, and players.

Margaret offers complimentary mini-lessons on Tuesdays before the game from 12:30-1 p.m. “Anyone is welcome to come to the lesson, whether they stay to play or not,” she said. Margaret started a similar club at Bay Village prior to helping Plymouth Harbor start one. “I am very much in favor of people being able to play competitive bridge as long as they are able,” she said. If you have any questions or would like to make a reservation or request a partner, please contact Margaret at motominosky@comcast.net or 941-223-3712.

When you work with the Plymouth Harbor Home Care Department, you have access to over 100 years of nursing experience, just at Plymouth Harbor alone. Our nurses have helped our residents through the continuum of care, and their incredible amount of experience has proved time and time again to be a reliable “first line of defense” whenever an emergency arises.

“These folks have cared for independent residents in their own home, perhaps once or twice for an emergency or over a period of years, and it must be comforting to know that in their time of need a familiar face shows up at their door,” said Joe Devore, Senior Vice President of Health Services.

Anna Johnson and Joan Brown have both been nurses in the Home Care department since 1989, making up 60 years of total Plymouth Harbor experience just between the two of them. During their tenure here, they have supported residents during times of need, both physically and emotionally. “As a nurse, you are given the privilege and responsibility of caring for the injured and sick, and you are able to give compassion in a time of need,” said Anna Johnson, LPN. “To know you have helped someone in a trying time makes you feel as if you are a part of something wonderful (Plymouth Harbor).” Other members of the Home Care team include Liz Clark (32 years at Plymouth Harbor), Cindy Taylor (18 years at Plymouth Harbor), Bridget Chapman (18 years at Plymouth Harbor), and Debbie Perren (6 years at Plymouth Harbor).

Every day brings something new, and our team is well-equipped and trusted to handle each situation with the proper care and genuine compassion. But looking back at their careers at Plymouth Harbor, it isn’t so much the emergencies that stand out; it’s the small, quiet moments. “What stands out most to me was how residents and employees worked together during the hurricanes,” said Joan Brown, LPN. “Everyone pitched in, doing chores that weren’t expected of them, and it certainly made what could have been a bad situation much more pleasant.”

Our residents know that their health and wellbeing is Home Care’s priority, and they can be counted on to deliver. “The Home Care department is the jewel of Plymouth Harbor,” said resident Randy Bishop. “The nurses and their devotion and helpfulness, both psychologically and physically, is not to be underestimated. They are the most important thing about Plymouth Harbor.”

The appreciation goes both ways. “Working in the Home Care Department, I learned to be a confident, independent nurse, and I can thank my Co-Workers and Plymouth Harbor Residents for that,” Joan said.

“Residents often reminisce with me about a time that I have helped them,” Anna said. “We laugh together at what we did and said. They are happy moments.”

Residents in our Smith Care Center now have a new activity to enjoy, thanks to the Plymouth Harbor Foundation. On July 10, an Eldergrow therapeutic sensory garden was installed in the SCC Living Room, bringing nature inside for our residents to enjoy year-round.

Eldergrow gardens are raised, mobile soil beds equipped with an indoor lighting system that allows plants to flourish inside year-round. The gardens are sustainably sourced, eco-friendly and energy efficient, and are accessible for both seated and standing gardeners. These therapeutic sensory gardens and the accompanying programming provide residents with a meaningful way to connect with nature that engages all the senses. “We try to make sure there are things to touch and feel, things to smell, and magical colors,” said Katherine, the Eldergrow Educator who came on site to perform the installation.

The installation began with Katherine bringing around a lavender plant, encouraging residents to touch and smell it. She did the same with a rosemary plant, and then with a “pink polka dot plant.” After introducing the plants, each resident was invited to choose one to call their own and place it in the soil, creating together a community garden full of diverse flora.

Now that the garden is up and running, residents will share daily tasks to keep the garden healthy, such as watering and pruning plants and tilling the soil. Every two weeks, Katherine will visit our residents to teach them about garden maintenance and host activities centered around the plants they are growing, usually using them to create crafts or even to cook! These classes allow the garden to further enrich the lives of residents by providing them with structured ways to use their motor, cognitive, and social skills. The activities help residents to engage with their community and their environment in meaningful ways.

Eldergrow is based on the concept of therapeutic horticulture and the healing powers of nature. Gardening has the power to change lives, with evidence showing it can improve motor skills, elevate mood, reduce agitation, and act as an antidepressant, among other things.

Leanne Beach, SCC Director of Activities, first learned of the program through a monthly Activity Director meeting and was immediately intrigued. “Several of our residents in the Smith Care Center are unable to get outdoors to enjoy the sunshine and see the flowers like they used to, and this seemed like a wonderful opportunity for them,” Leanne said.

The idea for Eldergrow gardens stemmed from this same problem. Eldergrow’s founder, Orla Concannon, came up with the idea for an indoor garden when her grandmother moved into a nursing home and no longer had
access to the gardens she loved to work in. While earning her Healthcare Executive MBA at Seattle University, Orla created Eldergrow in honor of her grandmother to bring the therapeutic benefits of gardening and nature to senior communities. After graduating in 2015, she successfully completed the University of Washington’s Jones and Foster Accelerator Program for Innovative Start-Ups and was awarded seed money for Eldergrow.

Now, there are 100 Eldergrow gardens across the nation, and ours is the third in Florida. “I am so happy and grateful that the “Eldergrow Program” has been welcomed to Plymouth Harbor,” Leanne said. “The support and enthusiasm was truly felt by our residents.”

Throughout Plymouth Harbor’s history, its residents have played a huge role in its development and success. Without them, our story would look very different and we have them to thank for many of our achievements. Tom Towler, a resident since 2009, was instrumental in the creation of The Plymouth Harbor Foundation.

In order to ensure the proper stewardship of the many gifts and funds contributed to Plymouth Harbor by donors, The Plymouth Harbor Foundation was established in 2012. An outside firm, Richter and Richter, was brought in to perform a feasibility study and determine how the board would be formed and how it would function.

When The Plymouth Harbor Foundation was founded 7 years ago, Tom Towler was one of the first members of the board along with Phil Starr and Bruce Crawford. “When we started, we didn’t know what direction we were going to go, and Tom was very much a founder,” said Harry Hobson, CEO. During his time on the Board, Tom has played an active role in each of the capital campaigns, helping to raise funds for large-scale improvements to our campus and services.

The first project taken on by The Foundation was the renovation of the Wellness Center. By 2013, a capital campaign was begun and before long the $1.1 million dollars needed was raised. By September of 2014, the 10,000-square-foot project was complete.

On August 20, 2014, The Plymouth Harbor, Inc. Board of Trustees approved the Northwest Garden Building Project, our largest capital campaign to date, and in December 2015 the project broke ground. When this large addition to the campus was completed in late 2017, Plymouth Harbor was able to not only increase the capacity of our current services but also bring a new level of care to our residents: memory care.

While in between these two large projects, Tom knew how important it would be to keep the philanthropic spirit alive. With the support of the rest of the Board, Tom helped find a new project to focus on. The rejuvenation of Pilgrim Hall was selected, and our internal theater was given increased audio and video capabilities as well as a sleek, modern interior.

Change is scary, and many of these capital projects have been monstrous undertakings, but Tom always sees the potential for success and knows the importance of continually improving our community for our residents. “Tom is the kind of person that gives people confidence, that makes us believe we can do it,” Harry said.

In addition to being a member of our Foundation Board, Tom has also served on the Sarasota Memorial Hospital Board for nine years and was the chairman of the hospital foundation for the last six.

After seven years, Tom has decided to retire from The Plymouth Harbor Foundation Board. We are eternally grateful for the time, love and attention he has given during his tenure. He has made a lasting impact on both our campus and our community. In honor of all he has done for The Foundation, Harry Hobson, CEO, presented Tom with an award for “his dedicated service and leadership. “I’m not sure what The Foundation Board’s next project will be, but there’s no doubt that it’ll be worthwhile,” Tom said.

On June 4, 2019, The Rev. Dr. Jack A. Smith passed away in the very building that was named after him: The Smith Care Center.

He graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a degree in finance and then went on to attend the Oberlin Graduate School of Theology and Vanderbilt University where he earned his doctorate degree. Before coming
to Plymouth Harbor, he was a business owner.

The Rev. Dr. Smith became the second Administrator of
Plymouth Harbor in 1972. A former minister in the Florida Conference of the United Church of Christ, The Rev. Dr. Smith also had a business degree and administrative experience. During that time, Plymouth Harbor was struggling to keep pace with rising costs of operation and existing resident contracts contained clauses restricting increases in fees. In an impressive show of devotion, The Rev. Dr. Smith, trustees, and residents raised enough money to save Plymouth Harbor and get it back on solid financial footing. If it weren’t for him, Plymouth Harbor very well may not have made it to the present day.

Prior to the Smith Care Center, Plymouth Harbor had a small infirmary located on the second floor of the Tower, where the Callahan Center is now, with 43 beds in 14 rooms. In 1988, the North Garden was built and the infirmary was moved into the new, improved space and renamed the Health Center. It was later renamed again the Plymouth Harbor Health and Rehabilitation Center to more fully describe its capabilities. At its 40th anniversary celebration, the center underwent a final name change in recognition of the former Executive Director and became The Jack A. Smith Care Center.

In 1989, The Rev. Dr. Smith retired after 18 years as Administrator, however he returned as interim CEO in 2004 during the year before Harry Hobson came aboard. The Rev. Dr. Smith has left his legacy at Plymouth Harbor, and we are grateful to have had him as part of our story.

In the doorway of each of the 30 resident rooms in the Starr Memory Care Residences is a large, glass box, commonly called shadow boxes. Within these boxes are all sorts of memorabilia, from newspaper clippings and photos to small glass sculptures and artwork. Each box gives a peak into the life and interests of the resident it belongs to, and is an important way to help those in memory care retain their identity.

Each memory box tells a story, highlighting the things most important to each resident. Bob Johnson’s box contains a few toy model cars, a newspaper clipping, and some other memorabilia from his time as a successful car dealership owner. Originally from Chicago, Illinois, Bob joined the U.S. Air Force at age 17. He served for four years before being honorably discharged. After earning a degree in business management and accounting, Bob went on to own three General Motors dealerships and one Ford dealership, all in western New York. During this time, his companies were listed among Black Enterprise Magazine’s “Top 100 Auto Dealers.” After retiring and moving to Sarasota, Bob established a Robert Johnson scholarship fund at Ringling College and Empire State College and has also donated to the Sarasota City Parks Foundation.

It is common practice to have shadow boxes in Memory Care residences as markers for an individual’s room. Often, it is the staff that put these boxes together for the residents, but we invite our residents and their family members to fill them. When the Northwest Garden Building was being designed, “we wanted to expand the concept of these shadow boxes,” said Brandi Burgess, Administrator of Assisted Living and Memory Care. While front “porches” would not have been a practical use of space or materials, these boxes serve as a way for each resident to have an individualized entry to their abode. The boxes were made bigger and deeper and were illuminated from within to make the contents easier to see.

“They became beacons for each resident room, and are amazing conversation starters between residents, staff, and family members,” Brandi said. Next time you visit a loved one in the Starr Memory Care Residence, take some time to look inside these boxes and learn a little more about the people that live there.