Hugging booths change lives at nursing home

What started out as an Eagle Scout project consisting of tape, plastic and PVC pipe ended up being a creation that changed the lives of elders at a Mississippi senior care facility.

Cooper Williams, 17, of Madison, designed and built hugging booths for the Martha Coker Green House Homes in Yazoo City. Residents there, much like those at other assisted living homes, had not been able to hug loved ones since March when the coronavirus pandemic hit Mississippi. Williams’ hugging booths made that safely possible.

‘I got the idea from my mom,’ Williams said. ‘She used to work at a nursing home and she brought the idea to me. My grandmother knows the director at the Martha Coker nursing home, so we chose to do it there.’

Williams turned to the internet where he found images of various types of barriers that allowed people to hug. He settled on a design that consisted of a PVC pipe frame with a plastic shower curtain liner taped to it. Then he cut holes in the liner and attached enclosed sleeves fashioned from a plastic table cloth.

In the end, he had a protective barrier that allowed the residents at the home to hug visitors without fear of contracting COVID-19.

‘I made six of them because they have six different homes,’ Williams said. ‘So, I built one for each home.’

The booths arrived at the home in late November and Julie Hoffman, executive director of Martha Coker Green House Homes, said they have made a big difference in the quality of life of the residents who had been limited to distanced porch visits and window visits with loved ones.

‘You can just see the twinkle in the elders’ eyes,’ Hoffman said. ‘I tear up every time I see them hug.

‘It’s made them come back to life. It’s given them hope. Just to touch family members – it’s been phenomenal. The human touch – that’s what means so much.’

Kathleen Griffin, 84, a resident of Martha Coker Green House Homes, said the months of not being able to hug her children were difficult to bear.

‘It was horrible,’ Griffin said. ‘Those are my children.

Eddie Jo Ward, 86, is also a resident and she praised the hugging booth after being able to hug her daughter, Pam Golden.

‘It feels wonderful since I can’t get any closer to her than this,’ Ward said. ‘It’s a wonderful invention.

Golden said the booth has helped her cope with the situation as well.

‘The guy who built this must have a really big heart to think about doing something like this for the elders because I know a lot of them don’t get to see their family much at all. It felt good to get a big hug and stay close.’

Williams said he didn’t realize the impact his project would have on the residents until he saw the reactions when they used it and were able to hug family members for the first time in months.

‘I didn’t expect how much it would, but it made them very emotional,’ Williams said. ‘It made me really happy I did that. I didn’t realize quite how much it would mean until I really saw it.’

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