Health & Education

Lodges help Tribal Elders regain their sense of purpose

03.12.2021 Danielle Harrison Health & Wellness, People


By Danielle Harrison

Smoke-Signals staff writer

Tribal Elder Larry Cole carefully carves out the beginnings of a raven rattle from cedar board, his hands steady and expression focused.

Beside him rests a walking stick with abalone accents that he made after moving into Adult Foster Care’s Cougar Lodge in December.

Cole, 85, has been carving for several years. His work included creating elaborate totem poles for several neighbors, but recently he had stopped doing the hobby that once gave him joy. He sold or gave away his carving tools.

But after moving from his rural home in Glide to Grand Ronde, he has begun his woodworking hobby anew and refocused.  

Cole lives with four other Tribal Elders in a tight-knit community that has managed to flourish despite a global pandemic. Although he sometimes misses the peace and quiet that his former country home provided, he says he enjoys the camaraderie of other residents at mealtimes, and helping the staff with various tasks like preparing and cleaning up after dinner.

“Everyone is very nice, both the residents and the caregivers,” he says. “I also like not having to worry about going to get groceries.”

Larry’s daughter, Tribal Librarian Kathy Cole, was instrumental in convincing her father to give Elder care a chance.

“She had to twist my arm a bit,” he says. “I couldn’t see the neighbors where I used to live and I liked it that way.”

Kathy says having her father live so close provides much more opportunity to visit with family, and comfort in knowing he is safe.

“I like that he is close by now and not four hours away in a rural area without cell service,” Kathy says. “I can come by and visit every day now.”

She also reads to the residents on a weekly basis. Since the pandemic hit last year, these sessions have taken place outdoors on the covered porch area.

“It gets a little cold sometimes, but it’s still nice,” Larry says.

Amy Godown is the Adult Foster Care and Community Health manager. Once an Elder moves in, all of their meals, utilities, medication management and doctor’s appointments are taken care of by staff as needed.

 “COVID has really changed some of what we can do, but we are able to have outdoor visitation, which is very important for the residents and their families,” she says. “We used to do a lot of outings: Going out to lunch or to the mall, or an event. Now, the residents play a lot of board games. We try to keep them engaged and active. Our goal is to provide culturally respectful and holistic care to the greatest levels we can.”

The Tribe’s two Adult Foster Care lodges can provide services for up to 10 residents and are Level II state-licensed facilities.

Kathy has high praise for the care her father has received.

“They are wonderful with the residents and so flexible about everything,” she says. “This is a very good fit for him.”

When Larry inquired about the possibility of carving in his room during the colder months, Godown didn’t hesitate to give the green light.

“He is great about cleaning everything up, too,” she says. “He is such a sweetheart and very independent. The staff has also been really encouraging him to continue carving and supporting him with whatever he needs. It’s very important for Elders to keep their hobbies because it keeps their brains firing, and alleviates depression. It also helps with motor skills and creativity.”

To create a more home-like environment, Larry was allowed to bring several cultural items to his new digs. Maintenance staff helped to safely hang everything.

“Larry and Kathy have really brought a breath of fresh air to this facility,” Godown says.


Carving is a longtime hobby

Larry began carving 25 years ago after one of his daughters bought him a book on the subject.

“I thought, ‘Hey, I could do that,’ and so I did,” he says. “I’ve carved up to 21-foot totem poles, innumerable bowls, and ceremonial pipes and just about anything else I decide to make. Over the years, my kids kept buying me books on carving.”

His favorite materials to work with are red cedar and yew. One totem pole took 360 hours to complete and is located at his former residence in Glide.

“It is mounted on a cement platform so it will probably never decay,” Larry says.

Larry has three daughters and two sons, and eight grandchildren. He spent his working years at Champions Plywood in Roseburg. He is grateful to be a Tribal member and proud of his heritage.

“I might still have to be working if it wasn’t for the Tribe,” he says.  

When an Elder becomes eligible for foster care, the cost is determined by 75 percent of their income, such as Social Security, per capita payments or a pension from a job. The Elders pension they receive as a Tribal member is not included in determining how much is paid for care, which leaves them with financial breathing room.

Kathy says it has been “a blessing” to have her father on the same campus where she works.

“Before he lived at Cougar Lodge, he lived by himself. … Within one or two weeks after moving in, he was carving again. He hadn’t carved for a year. With the weather being so cold he couldn’t always go outside, but they allowed him to carve in his room. He has worked on his carving every day and has really been enjoying it again. He plays games with the other residents which is something he has never done in his life. He tells me how wonderful everyone is to him and he is just so much happier. They let him bring his deer head mount, his coyote and they also mounted antlers on his wall. When they finished putting everything up, he commented on how now he feels at home.

 “I’ve just seen a real change in him. He is enjoying life again and that is such a relief for me. I was constantly worrying about him. Now I know that he has people looking out for him who really care about him. Everyone is so nice and kind. It’s a blessing that he lives there.”

Larry says he has “no gripes.”

“I’d like to be living on the river now,” he says with a smile. “But overall, my life is good and I enjoy every minute of every day.”