Janelda Barnett has seen many powerful moments as a chaplain. From dementia patients gaining seconds of pure clarity to immobile seniors finding the courage to dance.
“Moments of happiness are what I am looking for,” Barnett said.
Those moments are the fruit of her work as a chaplain at assisted living and memory care locations on the Southside. Often she is joined by her son, Timothy, a musician and a graduate of Center Grove High School, at Bickford Assisted Living in Greenwood.
“I enjoy working with the elderly,” she said. “I have learned more and more how to work with people with dementia. It takes a lot of patience.”
Tim will play his violin while Janelda leads the seniors in singing classic worship songs followed by a brief sermon.
“Over the years I learned that songs, poems and prayers are the last memories to go,” she said about dementia. “I have discovered that someone who can’t even say their name ... you sing a song that they knew when they were kids and they can sing every word with you. Suddenly, the glazed look leaves and then they can make a connection. And I really enjoy seeing that.”
Janelda has been in ministry and music most of her life. She performed on local television while growing up in Montana. She and her husband wound up in Indiana to start a church and settled in White River Township in part because of Center Grove Schools.
She observed that a few assisted living and nursing homes didn’t have chaplains or offer church services.
“If they don’t have church services, I feel really bad for the residents. If they are not going to get a church service, then sometimes I will just volunteer so there are services for people who can’t get out any other way.”
Volunteering allowed Janelda to network with her employer Marketplace Chaplains and learn what works with seniors. She has seen other services fall flat on interacting with the elderly.
“You want something that engages you,” she said. “They are able to connect with the music when nothing else connects. A French lady with no speaking ability at all, I can sing a song in French and she will look up at me say, ‘That is a very silly song.’ ”
In addition to being a chaplain Janelda pastors First Church of God in Seymour. Timothy plays for local orchestras and works with special needs children through his music. This includes a child with with autism.
“One is autistic, and he has another brother who is severely autistic, and I give him violin and piano lessons,” Timothy said.
Proving that musical enrichment can help all ages, Janelda wants to let people know to not compartmentalize senior citizens.
“A lot of people just ignore the elderly.” she said. “They often have some wonderful stories to tell. We forget to slow down and spend time with them. I love pastoring the people here.”