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Girl, 12, livens nursing home
Spends her summer volunteering
Nursing 1 WEB
Hannah Yarbrough helps Betty Darby to the dining room at Tara Plantation on July 1. The 12-year-old decided to spend a much of her summer helping residents at the nursing home. - photo by Autumn McBride

Like many 12-year-olds, Hannah Yarbrough’s teeth are wrapped in corrective braces.

Despite its metal and plastic confines, the rising eighth-grader’s smile lights up a room.

That smile, combined with her sunny disposition and unusually mature sense of compassion, have been reaching many this summer.

The North Forsyth Middle School student decided she didn’t want to spend her break in the traditional fashion of hanging out at the pool or going to the mall with friends.

She wanted to make some new friends, but perhaps not the kind most her age might think of.

Yarbrough decided to spend her summer volunteering at Tara Plantation nursing home in Cumming.

“I just thought it’d be fun and something to fill out my summer,” she said during a recent visit to the facility on Tribble Gap Road.

Since school ended in late May, Yarbrough has spent the hours of 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at Tara. And she’s made more than just a few friends.

“Don, he’s very funny and really nice,” she said. “And there’s Betty, Etsel and Marjorie. I spend a lot of time with them.

“But Marjorie’s in the hospital today. Betty’s in really good shape, and Etsel had a stroke and his family is with him a lot.”

The names are those of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients in the facility’s memory care area, where Yarbrough spends most of her time volunteering.

Activity director Lawres Nichols said Yarbrough has become her “favorite volunteer.”

“She’s the best in the world, she’s awesome,” Nichols said. “It’s awesome to see a young person who really wants to be here.”

Yarbrough spends her time at the nursing home helping the residents enjoy activities such as bingo, arts and crafts and movies.

She also assists with lunch and spends one-on-one time with them in their rooms. Sometimes she even helps wash the dishes.

Nichols said Yarbrough goes wherever needed, doing whatever needs be done.

The activity director said she doesn’t know what she’ll do when school starts back next month.

“She’s like my little mini activities director,” Nichols said of Yarbrough. “When she’s not here, it’s hard for me to get everything done. I’m going to cry when school starts back.”

Residence director Audrienne Stevens agreed.

“Hannah is really our assistant activities director, just without the title or the pay,” she said.

“She may be 12 in age, but she’s very mentally mature. I talk to her just like all the rest of my staff.”

Both Nichols and Stevens said the residents of the facility have bonded with the 12-year-old.

“All the residents are in love with her,” Stevens said. “When she’s not here, they want to know where she is and when she’ll be back. She’s a very, very compassionate young woman.”

Added Nichols: “She’s one of a kind. She’s so full of life, so bubbly and bright.”

That brightness seems to impact the residents, even if they can’t always verbally express their feelings.

They reach for the young woman’s hand and their own smiles stretch from ear to ear when she enters their sight.

Yarbrough’s mom, Kelly, said she’s amazed by her daughter’s compassion.

“She feels at home here,” she said. “She wants to do this. It fills her soul and makes me so proud.”

The mother isn’t completely surprised by her daughter’s generous spirit. The child has two older sisters — Bryn, 21, who wants to be a special education instructor, and Haley, 17, who hopes to become an elementary teacher.

But she has to admit Hannah’s compassion for the elderly is something rare.

While watching her daughter interact with the residents, Kelly Yarbrough caught herself becoming emotional.

“This is the first time I’ve really seen her work with them,” she said through tears. “When [the residents] see her, they can feel her love and it makes them light up.”

Hannah Yarbrough hopes her efforts will be an inspiration to others her age.

“If they can’t donate time, maybe they can donate things like money or toys for the [memory care area] or socks,” she said. “They all love socks.”

Even if other children her age aren’t keen on helping, Hannah intends to keep up her efforts.

She’ll turn 13 on Wednesday and plans to share her special day with her new friends.

“She has a lot of friends her own age, but she wants to bring a big birthday cake up here and celebrate with [the residents],” her mother said.

The younger Yarbrough, who someday wants to become a nurse and work with Alzheimer’s patients, also plans to keep volunteering after she goes back to school.

“I want to come after school a few days a week and on the weekends,” she said.

The facility’s staff will always have a place for her.

“Everybody knows her and loves her,” Stevens said. “When she’s old enough to work here, we’ll definitely put her on the pay roll.”