Participants in the Daughters’ Support Group have found comfort, strength and friendship at their monthly meetings. Pictured back row from left: Sarah Pietrowski, group facilitator, Janet Seitz of Alden, Cynthia Kicinski of Williamsville and Cheryl Bennett of Elma. Front row from left: Sharon Oats of Canada, Donna Bowers of Clarence and Pat Cruikshank of Alden.      

On a beautiful sunny mid-summer day, volunteer Pat Cruikshank of Alden leads an eager group of gardeners into the courtyard at The McGuire Group’s Harris Hill Nursing Facility in Lancaster. The rainbow of blooming colors is a fitting reward for their toils in the soil this summer under Pat’s gentle guidance.

But these are no ordinary gardens, and Pat is no ordinary volunteer. She is the daughter of Ruth Pequignot, a resident on the facility’s memory care unit and a dedicated volunteer who reinvigorated the raised-bed gardening program, donating time and TLC to get things growing. The flowers are not the only things blooming in the courtyard this season. A vegetable garden has also produced a generous harvest, and several trees have been planted in memory of former residents.

Pat’s enthusiasm comes from a deep devotion to her mother Ruth and a family tradition of giving back to others. In 2002, she took an early retirement from ECMC after 29 years to help care for her mother. When Ruth was admitted to Harris Hill in 2006, Pat continued to remain active in her mother’s care by donating her time as a volunteer.

“I know my mom notices and is proud of me for being there,” she stated. Ruth is not the only one who is proud. The employees at Harris Hill are thrilled to have such an active volunteer. Not only has Pat become friends with the residents on Harris Hill’s memory care unit, she has also bonded with their loved ones, many of whom attend support group meetings with her. One group that has been particularly helpful is a Daughters’ Support Group held on the second Wednesday of the month at 5 pm at Harris Hill. “I really thought I had no need for support, but I found I had more things to learn and share with my new friends,” she stated. The women in the group continue to encourage daughters of new residents to participate and are active with programs and as volunteers at the facility as well. “It is such a good experience to be able to help others and realize we are not alone,” she stated. “I found out I still had many feelings that were helped by sharing and talking to others with similar issues.” Pat finds it especially heartwarming to be able to share solutions with caregivers who are feeling overwhelmed in the early stages of the disease. She has even hosted events at her home and is planning a gathering to view an HBO special on Alzheimer’s disease.

Pat’s active volunteerism compliments Harris Hill’s structured programming and activities. “My mom has always felt at home on the memory care unit because everything is geared toward her abilities, and the staff is very loving and attached to the residents,” she stated. “The residents are treated as individuals and encouraged as it suits their current needs.”

The programs on the memory care unit at Harris Hill, and at its sister facility Northgate Health Care Facility in North Tonawanda, are what makes The McGuire Group unique. Both facilities feature secured units with dementia-specific trained staff who understand the progression of memory loss and the diseases affiliated with it. Dementia-specific planning on the units focuses on therapeutic tasks that maintain an individual’s functional abilities and encourage the use of past-life skills. A music therapist utilizes soothing rhythms to promote relaxation and socialization; a massage therapist uses the calming power of touch to help individuals feel reassured and nurtured; occupational therapists utilize skills to maintain mobility, coordination, balance and strength; and dementia experts facilitate a number of helpful support groups.

The units also offer unique Memories in the Making art programs in conjunction with the Alzheimer’s Association of WNY. The programs, which are hosted facility-wide at Northgate, encourage self expression and are designed to enhance the quality of life for persons living with memory impairments.

The employees at Harris Hill and Northgate have received special training from the Alzheimer’s Association to serve as Memories in the Making facilitators. During the art sessions, residents are able to share their memories and express their feelings while creating lasting legacies. Numerous pieces of artwork have been selected from residents at Northgate and Harris Hill and will be auctioned off by the Association in February of 2010. In addition, Northgate will be the host of this year’s Artists’ Tea, a pre-auction event for artists, family members and staff members from facilities across the region.

“I was so proud of the picture mom painted that was part of the auction last year,” Pat said with a smile. “I was able to make copies for all of my family; it will be cherished.”

With the structured programming and a host of dedicated staff and volunteers who make The McGuire Group’s memory care units unique, it is no wonder that Pat Cruikshank knew Harris Hill was the right choice for her mother. “My first impression was that this was a unit for dementia, not medical purposes. My mom was healthy but her dementia was increasing. I really appreciate the activity staff having something planned for 11 hours a day.”

Ruth has certainly benefited from the structured programming that draws on many of her past experiences. As the mother of seven children, she was continuously active with her children, home and church. She enjoyed building stained glass windows for her church and was a member of the American Red Cross, Home Bureau and a treasurer of the Coast Guard Auxiliary. She was also active with a women’s church group, square dance clubs and as a Eucharistic minister. “My mom is progressing toward the final stages of this disease, but I know her life on the memory care unit has kept her at a higher functioning level than any other place could have,” Pat said. “She loves the music from Terri, the loving touch from Kate, the church services and all the special attention she receives from the staff. If it weren’t for this special group, I do not think I would have seen as slow of a progression in the disease process. I believe this program has kept her going and has given her the quality of life I wanted her to have for her final days.”

To learn more about the services and support groups, contact Harris Hill Nursing Facility at 632-3700 or Northgate Health Care Facility at 694-7700 or visit

Ruth Pequignot, an artist and resident at Harris Hill takes part in the Memories in the Making art program. She painted a beautiful forest scene which was auctioned off at last year’s fund-raiser to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association.        
Northgate residents Florence Hopkins and Victoria Pendziwiate take part in a music therapy program with Terri Kasprzak. The rhythm and music creates a calming environment and facilitates socialization. Terri is a board certified music therapist and a licensed creative arts therapist. She also works with residents at both facilities who perform in two concerts a year for their loved ones.


Northgate residents Bertha Doane and Florence Hopkins (back) relax and enjoy having their nails pampered by Kate Bruenn, licensed massage therapist.        
Kate Bruenn, licensed massage therapist, enjoys a cup of tea with Northgate residents Petrolia Mason (left) and Roy LaMarca. Kate coordinates the tea parties on a regular basis to promote socialization amongst the residents on the memory care unit.        
Pat Cruikshank, center, and a group of residents work the soil in the courtyard of Harris Hill’s memory care unit. Gardening with her are from left: Jennie Mecca, Ruth Pequignot, Eva Marinelli and Joan Serafini.