Sojourn Adult Day Services Makes Great Days

Adults with special needs rehearse for their musical, The Fairest of Them All.
Local organization offers enrichment like theater to adults with special needs.
Sojourn Show-Offs members rehearse for their musical, The Fairest of Them All.

Since 1984, Sojourn Adult Day Services LLC in Mound has been serving adults of all ages living with special needs. While there is a team of trained medical professionals on staff, the center is first and foremost a gathering place and recreation center for health and wellness—or, as founder Sally Hebson puts it, “a place for people who don’t have another place to be.” Clients range in age from 18 to 90 plus, and there has always been a particularly strong pull among disabled veterans. 

In fact, this month, Sojourn will be celebrating the veterans in our community at their annual Veterans Day luncheon, a yearly opportunity to honor those who have served and to hear their stories. With a dynamic line-up of on- and off-site activities, special events and resources for caregivers, Hebson aims to bring together clients, family members and the broader community. Ultimately, she hopes to free her clients of the “curse of isolation and loneliness,” she says, so often the burden of those living with disabilities, age-related or otherwise. “What we offer is a great sense of connection and belonging. You’d be surprised how important that is to a person who is all on their own,” she explains. 

In addition to a catered lunch, activities may include anything from strength training to art, to reminiscing and music. Sojourners are also treated to seasonal outings, with some of the most popular being fishing, bowling, mini-golf and visits to theaters and art institutes. All activities are designed to promote movement and build a sense of camaraderie among participants, with particular attention to both the needs and wants of clients. “We like to say that we make great days. That’s what we try to do every day. So, we are always asking them how it’s going, what could be better,” Hebson says. “We want to know what they love to do. What makes their hearts race?” 

Jennifer Hicks, a board certified music therapist who has been with Sojourn for over nine years, says this is an aspect of the center that she most admires: the emphasis on the individual. Hicks runs several music programs at the center and regularly oversees music therapy interns and trainees doing community service. “I am always telling them that it’s not about the diagnosis. There is so much more to know about the person,” she says. She observes that being involved in a community gives Sojourn clients a sense of purpose and vitality. “Sometimes you go to a funeral and people will say that the loved one’s life ended when they had their stroke or got their diagnosis of dementia. It doesn’t have to be that way! A person’s sense of value should extend their entire lifespan,” she explains. 

Music is one of the principle ways in which Sojourn promotes a sense of vitality and forges personal connections—both within and without the day care center. Many of its staff members have a musical affinity and/or formal music training, and Sojourn is able to offer three different choral groups with weekly rehearsals, tri-annual performances and in-house recitals. This includes a standard concert choir, an elite “tone chimes” choir, and the Sojourn Show-offs show choir. “It’s so much more than music,” Hicks says. “Our job is to help each person shine, and that means we look for what they can do, instead of what they can’t.” 

Patrick Charbonneau, who assists in music programs says Sojourn compares favorably to all of the care centers he has worked for. “I’ve seen the whole spectrum, and what they are able to do [here] just goes above and beyond what most can do,” he says. Charbonneau has been with Sojourn for over a decade, and has a background in music composition and performance. In addition to assisting with rehearsals for the seasonal performances, Charbonneau also finds creative ways to incorporate music into the day-to-day group activities—with music history lessons, karaoke and dancing. “Love of music is something that is ingrained in us all,” he says, adding that some of his most memorable moments at work revolve around music. “Sometimes you have someone you didn’t even know could carry on a conversation, and then all of a sudden, you put on the right song, and they are singing. They know all the words. And they can really sing!” he explains. 

Sojourn has an ongoing partnership with several local institutions, including St. Thomas Academy, Crown College, the Veterans Association and Excelsior’s Old Log Theatre. This past August, the Sojourn Show-offs took to the stage at the Old Log Theatre once again for a one-night performance of an original musical, The Fairest of Them All. This event, as with Sojourn’s holiday and spring concerts, was free and open to the public—just another way in which Hebson and her team are seeking to bridge the divide between the able-bodied and lesser-able in our community.

In addition to its successful care center, Sojourn has also expanded its services in recent years to include seven assisted living facilities and two adult foster homes, each housing between four and eight adults. Residents of Sojourn Suites and recipients of in-home care are also encouraged to take part in the day care center activities, and the up-to-date calendar of events can always be found online.