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Koone Steps Out Her Comfort Zone to Help Senior CitizensDate: 05/16/2018
By Kev Moyè
DHS Media Specialist/Writer
Sherry Koone’s silver truck is near the front door of Southern Trace Rehabilitation & Care Center of Bryant.
Koone and her sister, Dana Noblett-Crabtree, get out the truck, open the doors and the flatbed, and start unloading the vehicle. An official from the 116-bed senior center begins to help out, moving items into the lobby.
What are they moving?
About 80 life-like baby dolls, filling an entire corner of the lobby.
Department of Human Services (DHS) staff and members of the community donated the dolls through a drive led by Koone.
“I figured DHS would be a great place to get the word out and collect dolls,” said Koone. “There are some good people who work for the agency.”
Organizing the two-week drive is outside Koone’s comfort zone. The Division of Medical Services (DMS) program coordinator dedicates most of her free-time to her three grandsons, and her boyfriend Donnie Reid, in addition to caring for her five dogs, and six cows.
“Between them … they all keep me pretty busy,” she said.
But one development inspired Koone to step outside of her norm.
Koone was hanging out with her mom, Wanda Noblett, who’s a resident at Southern Trace, when the visit took an unexpected turn.
A nurse brought her daughter’s doll to work for residents to play with. When the nurse gave the doll to Noblett, who has advanced dementia and a portion of her right leg amputated, something special occurred.
“I saw her face suddenly light up. It was like someone flipped a switch,” Koone said. “She was talking to the doll and singing a song to her. The song had only one word, ‘baby.’ Mom loved the doll. She patted it like it was a real baby.”
“To see mom’s face light up and to see that switch flip was amazing,” she added.
Her mom battles anxiety issues. But the doll helps to lessen the anxiousness.
So Koone later purchased Noblett her own doll named Chloe. The doll is a godsend for Noblett, a former field auditor for the Division of Medical Services, who’s lived at the center for slightly over a year.
“Chloe has made her feel needed again,” said Koone. “I wanted every person at Southern Trace to have the same excitement as mom.”
According to the National Institute on Aging, dementia is the loss of cognitive functions like thinking, remembering, communicating, and reasoning. Research has shown that doll therapy, the providing of baby dolls to people with dementia, is likely to make a positive impact.
For patients, having a life-like doll is similar to watching over younger siblings, a child, or even a newborn grandchild. Doll therapy often decreases agitation and provides a sense of responsibility for people who have the condition.
“With dementia comes a number of horrible things … depression and anxiety are just a couple of them,” Koone said. “Mom has had her share of tough situations, so to see her smile and be happy meant the world to me.”
Koone saw her mom’s joy and began to think of helping other residents as well. Her DHS responsibilities revolve around looking out for people. So helping others is natural for Koone.
For DHS, she investigates background check runs for applicants trying to enroll as Arkansas Medicaid providers. That includes people like doctors and dentists.
“My job is to keep possible bad people from enrolling to provide services to Medicaid clients,” Koone said. “Digging into a situation to find the reason negative information is following the applicant is what I like most about my job. And it helps others who may not have that information.”
Koone admires how DHS helps the people of Arkansas – both at work and through community service. So it made a lot of sense for her to depend on fellow staff to help out with the baby doll drive. They did not disappoint.
“Two of the biggest doll donations came from a former DHS employee and a former foster parent,” Koone said.
While there is no second baby doll drive in the works, Koone has collected almost 100 dolls as people still occasionally give donations. As baby dolls trickle in, she plans to drop them off at Southern Trace.
“Thinking back on the day we took the first group of dolls to the center, I was overjoyed to see what my sister and I collected,” she said. “I saw that there was enough for all of the residents to receive a doll and that a sister location would get a few dolls.”
“These are our parents, grandparents, even great-grandparents, and they have spent much of their life caring for others,” Koone said. “Now it is time for others to care for them.”
(Sherry Koone was nominated and featured for the Living the Mission series at DHS, which focuses on staff members who go above and beyond their typical functions. If you know someone who lives the mission of DHS and should be featured for the Living the Mission series, contact Kev Moyè at firstname.lastname@example.org.)