In the main space at the Hinkson Assisted Living Center in St. John’s, the Wings of Joy singers stand with the sun behind them and get ready to perform healing songs to the residents. Cynthia goes around the room and says hello and listens to them as they chat and share how they feel. She remembers their stories and consoles each one with her special ability to be in the moment. The kindness of what’s familiar gives solace to residents in the supple room; it is ample for them to roll their walkers. The room is warm and has the scent of fresh cooked food from lunch. Kathy Washburn, the creator of the volunteer group, Wings of Joy, tunes up on the piano to “Alley Cat.”
On this windy October afternoon Kathy notes that it is not the end but a transition. Her joy is to spread the comfort of traditional and period music to match the lives and faces that are staring into the corner where the group, stand. “Side by Side,” “Has Anybody Seen My Gal?” “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” and “Catch a Falling Star,” capture the clients memories. Small grins on tiny faces – one lady silently asks to hear the “Tennessee Waltz.”
A trio breaks off from the group and sings, “Amazing Grace.” In this broad room of cushioned furniture the synchronization and the chords of Ron, Wanda and Kathy give one of the best renditions of this song that I have ever heard.
Wings of Joy sing non-stop for one-half hour wearing blue shirts with butterflies. They peer out over sheets of music to canes slanted against wing tipped chairs and stationary walkers. During one Wednesday of every month they drive to one of four locations (in the St. John’s area), separately or together to give their time, love, and their gifts of kindness; on this day, they seem to appear on the clouds in the winds of the White Mountain Area.
This group began about two-years ago when Kathy was looking for something to do after some life changes directed her to live in the mountains. Her journey has sent her to work as a nurse in California, after having grown up in Texas. Her life in the spirit of sharing in human services and healing afforded her the opportunity to look into the eyes of those in various stages of losses in their lives. She started Wings of Joy in Texas and transplanted the idea to Concho with one requirement of the singers, “Just be pleasant.” The Texas group is still thriving after her 10-year involvement and they actually won the AGB Grocery Store award in their first year, over a decade ago.
Kathy elaborates, “Thirteen-years ago another woman and I formed a singing group in Texas that we called Wings of Joy. All members were fifty-five and older, and among our all volunteer members, was one woman who had recovered from a stroke, another woman who had a kidney transplant, 4 women who had one or more cancers, and all of us had bits and pieces of our bodies removed, or replaced. We sang where ever we could – nursing homes in six counties, church groups, reunions, birthday parties, and patriotic groups. We were the happiest group around. Loved what we were doing, and supported each other unquestioningly,” she says.
“I do political blogging daily. I met a fellow who did the same. Our ideas were similar. We decided to combine our forces … we became life partners, and moved to Concho Valley in 2010 because I love the mountains and he needed a dry climate for his arthritis. I still wanted a singing group, but knew virtually no one in Concho. I finally met Zuma Bouchard, we talked, and decided to form Wings of Joy, Arizona. Our membership is somewhat fluid, but numbers from 6-15 people. We accept men and women of any age, and there are no try-outs,” Kathy continues.
Co-founder, Zuma, says that she, “Enjoys watching the changes she sees in their faces over time,” which is why she does it.
By the last song they were crooning along in full harmony while one lady roamed in and out of the furniture corners with her walker. A combination of big voices and traditional songs provide the singers with the joy of sharing through music and communing with each other.
“It’s Me-Oh Lord it’s Me,” filled the room and one lady who slept through the performance finally opened her eyes when they ended their set with “God Bless America.”
“Wings of Joy, Arizona have been operational, for almost 2 years. We currently also sing each month for Sierra Blanca Rehabilitation in Lakeside/Show Low, Bannon Springs Nursing Home in Vernon, and Angel Wings Nursing Home in Vernon.
“Our goal is to provide as much pleasure for shut-in’s as well as others as is possible for us to do. We hope we make others happy. We know we make ourselves happy doing these events.” Kathy says.