PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Many families use annual Christmas decorating as a way to spread holiday spirit while surrounded by their loved ones. However, local members of Phi Eta Sigma National Honor Society used Christmas decorating as a way to bring some warmth to those unable to physically participate in the ritual.
Eleven members of the honor society recently spent two hours of their time decorating the interior of Presque Isle Rehab and Nursing on Academy Street, to share a festive touch with its senior residents.
The decorations were supplied by the nursing home staff. Two large artificial trees were decorated by PES members with bright lights, glittery ornaments, angel tree-toppers and a stocking for each resident.
Several senior residents sat nearby watching the young men and women decorate the place they call home, expressing their approval of the vibrant decorations. One resident who wished not to be named said excitedly to other women sitting nearby, “Look at the beautiful colors. I’d love to use the same ones when I decorate my mantle.”
One tree was placed in the front dining room and the other was assembled in the activities room.
According to P.I. Rehab and Nursing activities assistant Anita Cheviot, those rooms are common areas for the residents, making them prime locations for the decorated Christmas trees.
“The activities room is a central room where they eat meals and listen to musical guests,” said Cheviot. “This room is also where they listen to Christmas carols when church and community groups perform.”
Since this was the Phi Eta Sigma society’s fifth year volunteering to decorate the nursing home, the members present were a combination of new and old inductees. As a new inductee to the society, UMPI sophomore Cole DuMonthier was excited to become a part of the decorating tradition.
“This was a wonderful experience, and I’m glad to be a part of it. I’m excited to do it again next year,” DuMonthier said.
As Secretary of the PES Executive Committee at UMPI, this was Rebecca Stepp’s third year decorating for the local nursing home, but the experience remains an important one.
“It is a great time for the members,” said Stepp. “The greatest part is about seeing the excitement on the resident’s faces as we get the trees together.”
The honor society began decorating at the nursing home when a PES member who worked at the home at the time suggested it to the society advisor Jim Stepp.
“We jumped on it,” said Jim Stepp, describing the excitement of the society to take on something so worthwhile. “Members even bring their spouses and children with them sometimes to spend time together.”
In terms of a lasting impression, Cheviot shared that residents enjoy the Christmas trees once they become a part of their daily surroundings.
“They enjoy the trees very much; they enjoy all the colors,” said Cheviot.
As society members left the activities room once the decorating was complete, Cheviot began playing piano and singing Christmas carols with some of the residents, with the sparkling tree nearby.
Along with decorating the local nursing home for Christmas each year, Phi Eta Sigma is also responsible for the annual campaign “Treats for Troops”, which sends Christmas cards signed by UMPI students and faculty to American soldiers fighting overseas. Phi Eta Sigma also recently began a new campaign called “Supplies for Sandy”, which encourages UMPI students and faculty to donate money or supplies to people suffering the consequences of Hurricane Sandy.
According to Rebecca Stepp, these service projects make her feel like the society members are helping to make someone’s life a little easier or making their day a bit brighter.
“There is a hymn we sing at our church that goes ‘Because I have been given much, I too must give’,” said Stepp. “I may not have everything, but I know that there are others out there with less.”
Phi Eta Sigma Honor Society was founded on March 22, 1923 at the University of Illinois, making it one of the nation’s oldest and largest honor societies with approximately 975,000 members. With its name taken from a Greek phrase meaning “knowledge is power,” the society recognizes high academic achievement among college students all over the country, focusing heavily on finding members from freshman classes. Each member is required to complete 5 hours of community service a semester in order to remain an active member of the society, though inductees remain official members for life.