In the dining room at St. Anne's Guest Home, a massive sign reads, "Welcome to Little Italy," and tables are draped with red-and-white checked cloths.

Several residents are tying quilts with short pieces of yarn in preparation for the home's annual Autumn Extravaganza on Saturday.

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Paulla Solem, activities director at St. Anne's, moves from table to table, overseeing the final tasks to ready the last few quilts and other items for the craft sale.

On the quilts, each piece of yarn needs two knots, she said. "Check 'em good. We don't want any of them left undone."

"It's my first time being in charge of this event," said Solem. "This is the biggest fundraiser we do."

This is also the first time the residents have tried their hands at tying quilts.

Jim Schlett is also happy to help, he said. "It's something to do. It's nice to have something to do."

"James is one my most helpful residents," Solem said, smiling in his direction.

At another table, Norma Swenson is tying pieces of hot-pink yarn on a wire hanger.

"I like doing this," she said. "It's something for me to do."

The residents have also made fleece scarves, fabric wreaths and other craft items for sale.

The extravaganza will also feature a silent auction and a bake sale.

Setting the stage

Come Saturday, the dining room will be fully decked out in the Italian theme. Copies of the memorable Disney scene from the movie, "Lady and the Tramp," of the two dogs sharing a plate-and inadvertently one noodle-of spaghetti, will grace the walls.

Larry Wheeler and Paul Beland, who volunteer at the home, are planning to don felt berets and serenade those who attend the spaghetti luncheon, Solem said.

She expects the kitchen staff will wear special aprons, which are decorated with the word "Chef," and the kind of billowy white cap that denotes a chef of distinction.

Finding craft-making activities that everyone can do is sometimes difficult, Solem said.

"It's a challenge to come up with things that everyone can get involved in," she said. "I am always working to find crafts that seniors are good at."

A "handful" of residents are visually impaired, she said, and some have early Alzheimer's disease and others are coping with mental illness.

"I love to see people's expressions when they see what they do," she said.

St. Anne's is home to about 65 residents, and basic care is provided by a staff of five nurses.

"One of the biggest problems (for residents) is forgetting to take meds," Solem said. "Or double-dosing, or having enough money to buy them-so they're cutting or breaking a pill in half."

"Some people come here with only the clothes on their backs," Soleum said. "St. Anne's is a wonderful place."

Supporting activities

Funds from Saturday's event will support our activities program, said Sister Rebecca Metzger, administrator.

"Activities are very important to maintain individuals' physical and mental health," she said. "I've seen time and again that when people socialize and are involved in activities, they're happier, more alert and stay more well over a period of time.

"There have been incidents where I've heard family members say, 'Gosh, I don't remember Mom being this social for years.' "

Metzger, who earned a degree in occupational therapy and business administration, said, "If someone is interested in something, we find ways to expand on that. It goes a long way toward improving mental and physical health."

At St. Anne's, she said, "we've always put an emphasis on a good activity program."

And she has an enthusiastic aide.

"I love working with the residents," said Solem. "I get to play all day. I get to make people smile."

Asked where she gets the ideas for activities to keep residents socially engaged, Solem said, not missing a beat, "I'm crazy," with a laugh.

"I don't know. I have a scary mind, but the residents love me for it."

And she clearly loves her work. She can hardly imagine being paid, she said.

"My whole job is to make people happy. I have so much fun."

Autumn Extravaganza

What: Annual fundraiser, with craft and bake sale, silent auction, spaghetti dinner

When: 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday

Where: St. Anne's Guest Home, 524 N. 17th St., Grand Forks

Cost: Spaghetti dinner, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., $8/adults, $4/children 12 and younger.

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