Therapy dogs Colt and Charlie look out through a heart-covered window in the lobby of The Leland Legacy.

When face mask requirements took effect in long-term care facilities, Amanda Marquis said the usually friendly atmosphere at The Leland Legacy changed, because residents and staff couldn’t see each other smile or talk.

Staff soon found several ways to bring joy to residents, and even spread that joy to the community, earning a Spirit Award from Wayne County Area Chamber of Commerce a few days ago.

“This is just one of the initiatives that surfaced through the year of COVID-19, but it was incredibly impactful,” said Melissa Vance, the chamber’s president and CEO. “The hearts in the windows at The Leland Legacy and other locations throughout the community highlighted that sense of camaraderie that I think we all needed to feel – especially those that felt so alone, such as the elderly or the business owner trying to keep their doors open. It is a pleasure to highlight this simple gesture that carried the loud message that Wayne County residents care about each other.”

Placing hundreds of brightly colored paper hearts in windows has been just one of The Leland Legacy’s projects to boost morale.

Its recognition was inspired by the efforts of Richmond business owner Tammy Ullery.

A rainbow of hearts helped bring hope to the window of Ullery’s Homemade Ice Cream. Supplied photo

Ullery had seen a national effort called Happy Heart Hunt, encouraging people to put hearts in windows or post photos of hearts they saw in nature, such as sky views and heart-shaped flowers or twigs.

Ullery liked the idea of bringing joy in a difficult time. Because viewing empty stores and parking lots was so depressing and dreary, she hoped the project could help other local entrepreneurs keep hope alive in their hearts.

While Ullery’s Homemade Ice Cream was closed for the pandemic, Ullery worked with her artistic friend Debbie Warner on creating a fun display at the sweets shop on Fort Wayne Avenue in the Historic Depot District, creating a rainbow out of colored hearts, ending in the word “Hope.”

Ullery reached out to chamber employee Roxie Deer in late March for her help in setting up a Facebook page called Happy Heart Hunt Wayne County Indiana, encouraging Wayne County businesses and residents to place hearts on display. Ullery said pictures still are occasionally posted to the page.

The Leland Legacy staff wanted to tackle the project for a total of 250 windows on multiple stories. Staff started by placing one heart on each window, but it didn’t look right, so Marquis said they decided if they were going to do the project, they’d do it right.

They cut out enough hearts so that each small window had five to seven. They also “coated” the ground-level exterior windows for the lobby and dining room as well as The Corner Café restaurant inside their building.

The hearts, as well as a giant “We R Richmond” banner placed on top of the building, drew attention from passersby at Ninth and South A streets near downtown Richmond.

Marquis said one of the project’s biggest fans was Greg Easley at the neighboring RMD-Patti Insurance Agency, telling her it was amazing to walk into his building and see the colorful display. The project drew the attention of a couple of regional news stations, and a local drone enthusiast also created a video featuring the heart-filled windows.

“The residents enjoyed it as much as we did,” Marquis said. “Everyone pitched in, and it was good for morale for sure.”

An employee brought her dogs, Colt and Charlie, into work to bring joy to the residents, and a photo shows them peeking out the lobby windows around the hearts.

The hearts stayed in the windows for a couple months until their colors started fading because of the sun, and they weren’t looking as bright.

Marquis said she normally isn’t an emotional person, but the lingering six-month pandemic has made her emotions pretty raw.

Recognition from the chamber for the heart initiative brought joy to her as well as other staff and residents.

“When I heard that, I was so touched to get this award,” she said.

In mid-August, Leland staff also were pleased to learn they had been named Indiana’s Assisted Living Community of the Year by Indiana Assisted Living Association. The heart decorations and letters sent by the community to residents were just two of the examples of community involvement that the Leland demonstrated, leading to its selection for the award.

The Leland now sports a “Smile” banner with a smiley face, and painting the exterior elevator room near the banner has made the signs more visible on South A Street. Another message will soon make its debut atop the multi-story downtown landmark.

Marquis has been pleased to see many community partnerships throughout the pandemic.

For instance, Marquis said someone made a donation to provide Ullery’s ice cream to residents of long-term care facilities around town. Recently, The Leland Legacy rented the Ullery’s truck for its residents, taking them out in small groups to go to the truck and provide them with a fun experience.

Throughout the spring and summer, surprises have been planned for all the residents, with the Leland’s purchases and donations in turn helping locally owned businesses and organizations.

Marquis said pizza was ordered from Smiley’s Pub to provide a tasty treat. The Women’s Workshop made vegetable boxes so residents could watch plants grow. And earlier this month, a single rose was ordered for each resident from Lemon’s Florist. She said men got the biggest kick out of the flowers, with the gift placing a smile on many of their faces.

Those treats have helped bring joy to the senior community, which Marquis said as a whole has had so much sadness during visitation restrictions because elders are among the most vulnerable to the virus.

However, a patio renovation has enhanced the area where family members have been able to join their loved ones for outdoor visits this summer as restrictions loosened.

Those who follow the Leland’s Facebook page might have enjoyed some of their other morale-boosting efforts this year, including a silly dance video to Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling” and a whipped cream challenge when staff tried to flick a big gob of the sweet goo into their own mouths.

Staff are grateful for many demonstrations of community support, such as N95 masks from Beard Masonry, which has helped revitalize the Leland, and Pete Zaleski of Phillips Drugs provided toilet paper, hand sanitizer and masks when those items were in extremely short supply.

Residents said they didn’t realize how often the community came into the building until visitors had to stay away.

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Millicent Martin Emery is a reporter and editor for the Western Wayne News.