NEWS FEATURE: Young Bible Reader Brings Joy to Nursing Home Patients

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c. 2004 Religion News Service

FAIRHOPE, Ala. _ Hannah Denham has been practicing her reading.

But she doesn’t always sit at home in her room to read her favorite stories. Instead, she shares them with strangers.

Since February, the 5-year-old Spanish Fort School kindergartner has been going to Beverly Healthcare Eastern Shore here once a week to read to patients from her children’s version of the Bible. She was recently recognized by Beverly as the facility’s youngest volunteer during a volunteer awards ceremony.

“I like to do it because the residents are very special to me, because they let me love on them,” said the soft-spoken little girl, clutching her Bible outside the facility before going into rooms to read.

On a recent visit, Hannah sat on a sofa between two residents and opened her Bible to read the “Crossing the Red Sea” story.

Her shoulder-length hair pulled up on top of her head with a bow, Hannah read the story as the two elderly women patted the little girl and stroked her hair.

Hannah’s mother, Pam Denham, remembers her own mother taking her to a nursing home to read to residents and how much she enjoyed seeing the older people.

“I always wanted to do it with Hannah,” Denham said.

When the volunteer coordinator from Beverly called her church looking for volunteers to visit the residents, Denham thought it was a sign for them to volunteer.

“She wanted women to read the Bible,” said Denham.

Betty Jackson, Beverly’s recreational service director and volunteer coordinator, said she was surprised at how at ease Hannah was with the elderly residents and that she remembered all of their names.

“She has a really tender heart and just loves on them,” Jackson said. “And the excitement I see on her face _ she’s not frightened by them.”

Denham said her daughter not only reads to the residents, but she also pushes them in wheelchairs and even feeds one lady who can’t feed herself.

“I’ve told Hannah that all these people had dreams, had children, had a life and don’t ever forget it,” Denham said.

“It makes me feel good when she reads,” said 79-year-old Miriam Allen as she sat next to the little girl. “She’s just as sweet as she can be.”

Allen said since she doesn’t have any grandchildren, she thinks of Hannah as a granddaughter.

“She does an excellent job,” said 75-year-old Katie Hadley. “She’s always sweet and has a smile.”

Hadley said when Hannah finishes reading with her, they sit and talk about their families.

“We don’t have nobody to come see us,” she said. “I think it’s wonderful that old people like us have a young child come to read to us.”

As Hadley got up from the couch, Hannah grabbed her hand and helped her to the door. Hadley spoke up when Hannah was asked why she comes to the nursing home. “It’s what Christ wants you to do, isn’t it, Hannah?” said Hadley. “She’s helping us and helping the cause of Christ.”

DEA/PH END BUSBY

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