Thursdays with Mitch
Albom to speak at Va. Home fundraiser March 31
Blind since infancy, Harold Hausenfluck has nevertheless been crowned both banjo champion and fiddle champion of Galax, Va. In addition to working as a piano tuner and running an old-time music radio station, he has produced numerous custom-made learning and demonstration tapes for budding musicians.
When a 1999 stroke ended his career with strings, Hausenfluck resumed playing his original instrument, the harmonica. Now he and several musician friends put on a monthly concert to entertain his fellow residents at The Virginia Home in Richmond.
Another resident, Muriel "Evi" Burgin, lived and worked as a missionary in Israel, sold real estate, and earned a master's degree. When multiple sclerosis began to limit the use of her hands, she focused on developing her talent for singing, poetry and song writing. Her original song "At Home in Virginia," recorded by Jimmy Fortune of the Statler Brothers, is a candidate for the state song.
It's stories like these – not to mention those of the other 128 "amazing" Virginia Home residents – that keep Alice Goodwin coming back for constant doses of inspiration.
Fifteen years ago, a friend invited Goodwin to a tour of The Home; soon afterwards, Goodwin joined the Board of Trustees. Today the long-time Henrico resident is co-chair of the board's first-ever speaker event: "Stories of Courage and Grace: An Evening with Mitch Albom” on March 31.
The theme, says Goodwin, could not be a more fitting tribute to residents of The Home.
"They really are stories of grace and courage themselves," Goodwin says.
Founded in 1894 by Mary Tinsley Greenhow, who suffered permanent paralysis in a fall from a horse as a teenager, The Home was envisioned as a place where people with irreversible physical disabilities could receive a lifetime of care regardless of financial means.
To this day, says administrator Bob Crouse, the organization has kept that commitment. “We are very proud," says Crouse, "that in the 116-year history of The Virginia Home, no one has ever been turned away due to an inability to pay."
The current financial climate has made fulfilling that commitment more difficult, however, leading to the creation of the annual speaker series headlined by Albom.
A columnist for the Detroit Free Press, Albom became an international phenomenon with the publication of his inspirational book Tuesdays with Morrie – now the bestselling memoir of all time.
Although Goodwin looks forward to hearing from the author, she contends that staff, board members, and others in The Virginia Home community need go no further than 1101 Hampton Street for their feel-good fix.
"Pass through the front doors [of The Home]," says Goodwin, "and you will be inspired and uplifted."
Although most residents use wheelchairs and all have physical disabilities, they are constantly on the move, whether heading to art activities or a swim in the pool (where they have raised almost $60,000 for charity with an annual Aquathon).
Right on up to Keith Earp, who has lived at The Home almost 52 years, residents are "busy and interested in life," says Goodwin.
It's that same uplifting atmosphere that keeps volunteers from garden clubs, church groups, and schools coming back for regular visits -- and leads to long-term loyalty from staff members as well.
Twenty percent of the staff has worked at The Home 20 years or more. Bob Crouse has served almost 29 years, and Belinda Falconer, director of development, is in her 17th year.
"You come and stay," says Falconer of her tenure, with a what-else-could-I-do shrug.
"It's a home."
And it's a home, adds Goodwin, where visits are as likely to lift a volunteer's spirit as a resident's.
"Go there to help, and you return refreshed and invigorated," Goodwin says. "These folks are all very special, genuine, and real. Their smiles are endearing and their personalties are magnetic.
"We appreciate how our lives have been enriched by their presence."
"The Virginia Home Presents Stories of Courage and Grace: An Evening with Mitch Albom" will take place at 6:30 p.m. March 31 at The Jefferson Hotel. The talk is followed by a reception and book signing. Tickets ($75 each) are sold in advance only. For details, or to purchase tickets, call The Virginia Home at 359-4093 ext. 240.
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