Llamas on parade

Jaylin Vander Wiel and Robi greet a resident of Homestead Assisted Living Facility while making their way around the facility, bringing cheer, on Wednesday, April 1.

OSKALOOSA — When Merle Mann thought about ways to help out the residents at the Homestead Assisted Living Facility, he decided to bring some friends along.

In Merle’s case, those friends are a herd of very friendly llamas.

Homestead residents were treated to a very unique parade and some special deliveries on Wednesday, by four very friendly llamas named Cinnamon, Confetti, Oceta and Robi. They were led along by four equally friendly handlers named Merle Mann and Troy Mann, along with Suzanne and Jaylin VanderWiel.

Mann’s idea was to boost the residents’ morale by parading his llamas around the Homestead building and deliver some care packages on the backs of the animals.

“I thought it would be nice to deliver the residents some care packages as ‘packs on backs’ of the llamas, and it turned out to be a lot of fun,” said Mann. “The gentle nature of the animals and their natural curiosity made for a lot of great interaction for some folks who probably needed it. Believe it or not, these animals can improve our social and communication skills, ease our anxiety, and even brighten our mood.”

The sight of the llamas and young visitors brought a lot of smiles as well as some happy tears.

Mann contacted Mona VanZomeren, the activities director at Homestead, and together they formulated a plan for the parade.

“After Merle explained how he wanted to do the parade and deliver the care packages, I asked him if my grandchildren could help out by creating some signs and posters with greetings on them to share with the residents as they walked along with the llamas. He said he loved the idea,” said VanZomeren.

VanZomeran’s grandchildren Nathaniel (12), Weston (9), Aria (5) and Roselyn (4) each carried signs along the route to send greetings to the residents as they watched from inside the building.

During the parade, which kicked off at 12:45, the residents gathered around the windows and glass doors to get a closer look at the llamas and the children sharing their greetings.

Several residents could be seen waving and smiling as the caravan passed by. Some even printed out signs of their own that read “Thank you so much!” and pressed them against the windows. Mann stopped by windows briefly at different points along the way to let the residents get a closer look at the animals.

The route encircled the entire building and even passed through the gated courtyard at the back of the facility.

Once they arrived all the way back at the front entrance, Mann helped the activities staff unpack the care packages, which contained items such as shampoo, deodorant, game books and puzzles as well as lots of food.

VanZomeran’s grandchildren, along with help from their mom Anna Schaefer,  also prepared some candy bags and delivered them as part of the donations to the residents. They also lingered after the parade concluded and volunteered to do some trash pickup around the building as well.

All who participated agreed that the event was a huge success for all involved.

“I have to give all the credit to Merle for this very generous gift of his time and his llamas. We are all so thankful for the way he helped us out and our residents are still buzzing about how much fun they had!”

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