By Sean Barron
Richard Shehadi’s short- and long-term to-do lists include continuing his rehabilitation therapy, regaining much of his strength and increasing his walking distance.
Oh, and another item on the list is giving a stuffed animal to someone he cares deeply about.
“I got a teddy bear to give to my son’s girlfriend because she’s a strong part of my family,” the 58-year-old McDonald man said.
The latter goal was made possible by the efforts of Delores Lilko, a former resident of Omni Manor Health Care Center-Windsor House Inc. on the West Side. She was in that facility’s rehabilitation unit.
Beginning last September, Lilko, affectionately known as “Grandma Dee Dee,” began collecting donated bears and other stuffed animals to distribute to residents of area nursing homes and care facilities.
Her efforts have brought in close to 1,000 such items, many of which were distributed Saturday at Windsor House at Guardian Health Care Center, 1735 Belmont Ave. on the North Side.
Residents of Guardian and other area facilities were on hand to receive the bears.
Lilko, however, who’s staying with her daughter in New Philadelphia, Ohio, was unable to attend Saturday’s gathering.
One recipient of her generosity was Shehadi, who’s been at Guardian since June after having undergone a left-knee replacement. He hopes to return home in March after surgery to his right hip. He was pleasantly surprised to have received a white bear cradling a penguin that he intends to give to his son’s girlfriend.
“I want to be as strong as possible,” said Shehadi, adding that he’s able to walk up to 800 feet with a walker and who praised several Guardian staff members for their help in his recovery.
A larger bear wearing a red and green Christmas shirt found its way to Walter Allen, who’s been at Omni Manor for more than a year.
“I saw them and I said, ‘I hope I get one to give to Taylar,’” Allen said about giving a bear to his 3-month-old granddaughter.
The father of six, who hopes to leave the facility next month, praised Lilko for her idea.
Since her discharge from Omni Manor, Lilko has returned several times to clean and sort the bears before they were given to residents of Guardian, Omni Manor, Omni West Assisted Living Residence on the West Side and the St. Mary’s Alzheimer’s Center in Columbiana, noted Julie Villano, Omni Manor’s activities director.
“They were just lit up. It made you want to cry,” Villano said, referring to the reactions of Omni West residents, who received their bears last week.
Villano also praised Lilko’s son, Jim Lilko; Brian Ondo, Omni’s activities assistant; and Gail Holsing, assistant director of activities, for their part in Delores Lilko’s efforts.
Also lending a hand in the drive were Glorya Thon, Evelyn Hagan, Ruth Buckley and Marge Jenkins, all residents of Omni Manor.
Villano also expressed gratitude toward Lilko for doing her part to give back to others.
“She’s a very determined, very caring person in that she wants to reach out to people,” Villano said. “This has given her something to focus on, and she’s very proud of this.”