Ruth Darvin meets memory care patients on their terms


Ruth Darvin celebrates Chanukah with an assisted-living resident.

The Jewish Pavilion will honor two exemplary volunteers, Geanne Share and Ruth Darvin, at its Gems and Jeans Gala-an evening of gourmet dining, live music, silent auction and inspiring motivational speaker Bethanne Weiss-on Sunday, Jan. 8, at 5 p.m. at Sheraton Orlando North in Maitland. Of course, the proceeds from this fun evening benefit the seniors served in more than 70 assisted-living and skilled-nursing facilities throughout Central Florida.

"I feel very honored, very excited," said Ruth Darvin after hearing she was selected to be honored. "Nothing like this has ever happened to me before!"

It is surprising that Darvin hasn't been honored before by the Pavilion. She has been a volunteer with the organization since its beginnings about 14 years ago.

"Arlene Van De Rijn started Jewish Pavilion and she went with me to the facilities and trained me and showed me what to do," Darvin stated. "I think we do a very good service."

A "very good service" is an understatement about Darvin. Every two weeks, like clockwork, she visits people one-on-one in a few of the assisted-living facilities in Winter Springs and Oviedo.

"Jewish Pavilion Volunteer Ruth Darvin has been sharing her time and talents with the elder residents in local assisted-living, independent living, Rehab and Alzheimer living facilities for almost 15 years. She is a wonderful woman who gives freely from her heart," said Judy Appleton, program director of the facilities Darvin visits.

Darvin also serves as vice president of the board of directors and until last April she had been the president of the Friends board for three years.

Her true "specialty" is visiting patients with dementia or Alzheimer's. Not everyone would or could do what she does. She quickly learned to meet her friends at their level (which could fluctuate).

"I listen to what they have to say," she said. "They like to tell me all their problems, vent. I think they like me!"

It has been proven time and again that the residents Darvin visits do like her-a lot. One lady never wants her to leave and will walk with her to the door, asking her to stay. Another gentleman worries about her when she is not there. He knows what day she will be coming and if she is late he starts to worry.

"We've seen miracles there (at the memory care facilities)," she shared. "They say the Passover blessings. They learned them as young people. When we play music, they sing along and stamp their feet."

Darvin visited one resident for more than seven years. She watched him progressively worsen-going from being able to hold a conversation to speaking gibberish and clapping his hands. She learned to be with him "where he was"-if he spoke gibberish, she did too. When he clapped his hands, she mimicked him. Then one day as she was having a "gibberish" conversation with him and clapping hands, he suddenly said, "You are the best." He then kept saying her name over and over.

Darvin has a deep respect for the residents she visits.

"I meet so many interesting people," she said, then shared a story about a man who had come from Austria. "He loved classical music and knew about every composer. Another man said he made the bomb."

Darvin wasn't so sure he wasn't just making up stories. "He told me stories about how he made the bomb."

Then, while visiting her brother, they looked him up on the computer and discovered he had a PhD in biochemistry and was a member of the Manhattan Project, which was a research and development undertaking during World War II that produced the first nuclear weapons.

"Everything he told me was true!" Darvin beamed. "It was hard to think he had Alzheimer's."

"Older people aren't really respected in America," Darvin said softly. "It's sad to say, but they are put in a home and their children hardly ever come to visit them."

What inspired Darvin to visit these forgotten souls, total strangers?

After moving to Florida in 1982, she would visit her parents-who lived in Rockville, Md., near her brother-about five times a year. Darvin was thankful that her sister-in-law's mother visited her parents regularly.

"I just admired what she did and I couldn't see my parents very often. It was my way to pay back for not being able to visit my parents," she said simply.

Darvin's "paying back" has blessed many people, including herself, "I get as much out of it as I'm giving," she said with a smile.

Register now for the Gems and Jeans Gala online at, special events, or call 407-678-9363 for more information.


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