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Capital News Service

Lonely Thanksgiving

November 25th, 2009
By Whitney Ray

Thousands of seniors living in Florida nursing homes will spend Thanksgiving without their families to help celebrate. One if four families has cut back Thanksgiving day travel since 2007. As Whitney Ray tells us, nursing homes are looking for volunteers to brighten up the holiday for lonely seniors.

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Byron Clark helped fight the Germans in World War II. Married his high school sweetheart and fathered a family that continues to grow.

After his wife died, Byron checked himself into an assisted living facility. He’s spending Thanksgiving with his daughter and an old friend.

“We’ve know each other for about 56 years and we are all going to be together tomorrow in a private dining room over here,” said Byron.

Byron’s lucky. In Florida 160,000 people live in assisted living facilities and many of them will spend Thanksgiving alone because families are cutting back on holiday travel to save money.

People are taking shorter trips, trading in plane tickets for the mini-vans and staying within 50 miles of home. Peter Churchward, the executive director of Broadview Assisted Living in Tallahassee, says Thanksgiving can be tough on residents who aren’t expecting visitors.

“The holidays can be a depressing time for everybody, residents who are away from their families, it can be a difficult time for them, so there’s a lot that we try to do here in our community to alleviate the holiday blues,” said Churchward.

The main cure for the holiday blues is companionship. Mignon Stephens starts beaming at the sight of an unexpected visitor.

“It’s an awful lot of fun and we enjoy it,” said Mignon.

But for too many on the outer edge of life, Thanksgiving will be spent without family or friends.

Assisted living facilities around the state are accepting volunteers to spend some time with seniors this holiday weekend. If you’re interested in helping out call a nursing home near you or contact Florida’s Long-term care Ombudsman Program at 1-888-831-0404 or visit their website at http://ombudsman.myflorida.com