Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center Auxiliary
ANOKA, Minn. -- Each month, KARE 11 recognizes outstanding volunteers in our community as part of the 11 Who Care program. This month's honoree is the Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center's Auxiliary, a small group of former employees and community volunteers who have worked for more than 25 years to make life better for people at the treatment center.
Beneath a blanket of bright, white snow lies a century-old Anoka cemetery.
"There are 400 gravesites that are people who had been living at the old state hospital," Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center Auxiliary President Karen Siewert said. "They were buried there from 1899 to 1965. That is when they stopped (burying them there)."
The 400 gravesites were marked for decades only by numbers. Today they have memorials with each patient's name, birth and death date. The additional grave stones are thanks, in part, to the work of the Auxiliary. The group worked with the state of Minnesota, an organization called Remembering with Dignity and other concerned citizens to get a personal marker for each patient and an improved cemetery for all.
"We were just so happy that we could do this for the people. Everyone deserves a name and a marker on their grave," Siewert said.
The focus of the Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center Auxiliary is always on the patients.
"They thank us constantly for doing this," Dick Guimont said of the snack bar and general store that the Auxiliary runs at the treatment center.
On this day, Guimont, his sister Shirley Lynch and Audrey Douglas are serving up their popular hot dog lunches at the snack bar. Next door, at the general store, Ruby Wilson and Karen Siewert are stocking supplies.
"We have everything from soup to nuts," Siewert said smiling.
Offering everything from music to munchies, the volunteers hope to create a more comfortable stay for treatment center patients.
"Everybody enjoys coming here. It gives them a break from being on their unit," Douglas said.
"You get down here and you see how you've made somebody's day just because they can buy a candy bar or just because we have a pair of socks that will fit them," Wilson said smiling. "It's just, just a delight in itself to see the patient's response to what we do."
They see the response in their eyes and the Auxiliary members say they read about it in homemade thank you cards.
"Thank you for all you do," Siewert said while reading from a hand-written card.
The Auxiliary has used the funds from the snack bar and general store to buy a variety of things for the patients, including a Wii gaming system, a ping pong table and prizes for bingo nights. Siewert says the group is using the money they get from the 11 Who Care award to bring in new equipment to the facility's fitness center. "And it's nice to see them as they recover in their illness. It's a pleasure."
"Whatever we do here and whatever we make, we give back to the patients. It's a good thing. A good volunteer project," Lynch said.
It's a good volunteer project that remembers patients past, helps patients present and also looks to the future. The group also has been put in charge of a fund aimed at helping other organizations that serve people with mental illness. The Rose Fund Committee now distributes thousands of dollars annually in grant money to non-profit organizations serving the mentally ill.
"It was like something that you never thought would happen. There it was. And they had their markers and they had their names," Siewert said while looking over the snow-covered cemetery.
The once anonymous patients now have their names and their dignity. It's a gift from an Auxiliary that cares.
"It was done with such love," Siewert concluded.
The Auxiliary says it would love to welcome new members. For more information about becoming involved call the general store at 651-431-5127.
(Copyright 2010 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)