Bells bridge the barriers

Posted October 7, 2018 at 10:40 pm

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By Julie Ann Madden

The sound of bells ringing transcends generational and cultural barriers — between grandparents and grandchildren and between Akron, Iowa, and Haiti.

Thanks to her Akron grandparents, Alta and the late Arden Johnson, who taught her the value of volunteerism, Natalie Lakeman of Austin, Texas, is carrying on the “Care Center” tradition.

Lakeman learned to assist the elderly and make their days brighter during her holiday vacations spent at her grandparents’ home.

The whole family, including her parents and the family of her Aunt Boni and Uncle Jim Lochner of Dakota Dunes, S.D., would go to the Akron Care Center while they were visiting the Johnsons and play hand bells.

“We’d go to the Care Center and play bells with the residents,” said Lakeman. “Through that we learned to love the Care Center, which is where my mom and her sister worked in their younger years.”

It was also the last home of her grandfather and her Great-Aunt Phyllis Frisk currently lives there.

“We’ve come to love the bells,” said Lakeman, who continues to play in her church’s hand bell choir. “It was what Grandpa and Phyllis could do…My grandma still volunteers there often so we still go there.”

Now, Lakeman continues her grandparents’ legacy through her own church, the Austin Stone, which takes biannual mission trips to Neply, Haiti, with the organization, My Life Speaks.

The organization’s mission includes a medical clinic, orphanage, community area and other types of programs for both the Haitian elderly and youth.

“In this program, we do a lot of the same stuff that the Care Center does up here — adult coloring, crafts — very similar to what (Care Center Activity personnel) Tori Frerichs and Rita Kleihauer do.”

“I thought the bells would be so neat there,” said Lakeman. “They speak Creole and we speak English but it’s easy. The bells are color-coded — it’s a color they can learn to recognize.”

Lakeman’s parents, Wendi and Dean Lakeman of St. Louis, Mo., liked her idea and volunteered to purchase eight sets of the color-coded hand bells and music.

Frerichs assisted the Lakemans with the bells and music purchases and taught Lakeman how to conduct a color-coded hand bell choir.

“Toria has been awesome,” said Lakeman.

This past June Lakeman packed the bells and music in her suitcases for her biannual trip to Neply.

“They loved them,” said Lakeman, explaining they played the same songs the Care Center Bell Ringers do, including “It’s A Small World,” “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” “Kumbaya,” “Amazing Grace” and “Jesus Loves Me.”

“It was great,” she said, explaining the 10-song music included both Christian and everyday songs. “The bells we love to hear translate so great over there.”

The bells stayed at the Haitian mission site for use in both elderly and youth programs. Lakeman trained some staff to conduct the hand bell choir.

Lakeman plans to send more music including Christmas music for their Christmas celebrations.

In the Haitian programs, they do Zumba and a Yoga-type stretching moves, crafts, Bingo and have snacks just like their Akron counterparts.

The elderly program is four hours long each Wednesday.

There is a Feeding Program for 75 of the neediest children who are fed a meal and vitamins Monday through Friday.

There is also a Teen Program held twice a week.

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