By CHRISTINA McCUNE
DGKN managing editor
DALTON One hundred and one — that’s how many times Ashley Neuenschwander volunteered at Shady Lawn before she was hired.
It wasn’t that she was turned down for positions. She was simply too young to apply for a job at the center that offers assisted living and rehabilitation. When Neuenschwander began volunteering near the end of 2015, she was only 13 years old.
Neuenschwander, of Kidron, had accompanied a neighbor to visit someone at the facility.
“I thought it would be fun to volunteer here,” she said. “I kept on going.”
She has continued helping out at the center regularly since 2015. She felt the older residents seeing a youthful face regularly “could bring them some joy.”
At 17, Ashley Neuenschwander gets paid in more than just smiles.
“The second she was old enough, they gave her a job, because she was so good at caring for others,” said Neuenschwander’s 21-year-old sister, Rochelle.
Ashley and Rochelle are daughters of Phil and Jennifer Neuenschwander and have seven other siblings: Jerrel, Arla, Colleen, Karmyn, Cordell, Stuart, and Staci.
“She is always willing to help others and has the patience of a saint,” Rochelle continued. “She is always looking out for other people and has to be convinced to look after herself.”
The home-schooled high school senior is a part-time activities assistant at Shady Lawn. Since 2016, she has worked under activities director Bonnie Hodge, who said she has come to rely on the strong, hard-working upbeat young lady.
Neuenschwander helps with weekly activities such as movie nights and ice cream socials. Hodge said she depends on Neuenschwander to help with wheelchairs when they travel by bus for outings.
“The residents love her,” Hodge said. “She helps out with all my parties and my outings.”
Hodge said she and Neuenschwander hit it off as soon as they met. She has a special connection with the residents and she is dedicated to what she does, Hodge said.
“She’s always smiling, always happy,” Hodge said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen her not like that. Very positive. It’s amazing for a young person like that. She learns really quickly. She comes to all the in-services she can.”
After Neuenschwander completes her high school studies, she is considering taking a year to travel. Afterward, she plans to pursue a career using some of the experience she gained at Shady Lawn where she can continue to make a difference in people’s lives. She is thinking about going in to social work.
At a recent ice cream social, residents gathered and Neuenschwander went from table to table asking what flavor they would like. She quickly handed out scoops in little dishes as the residents chatted amongst themselves and to staff members, and she took time to greet some people as they came in.
Ina Killian, a resident at Shady Lawn who is originally from Massillon, is especially close to Neuenschwander. Killian enjoyed some ice cream but her eyes filled with tears when she spoke about her late husband. Neuenschwander came to the rescue and swooped in with a reassuring hug and a contagious smile.
“She makes me feel good,” Killian said about her young friend.