Local attorneys are helping teachers execute a living will and health care power of attorney through a free local program called Heroes in the Classroom, LNP | LancasterOnline’s Dan Nephin reported last week. The effort was launched after the COVID-19 death in early November of 47-year-old Manheim Township School District guidance counselor Alexandra Chitwood.
Last month’s death of Chitwood was a sobering moment for the Lancaster County school community. For sure, there is no profession that has been untouched by COVID-19. But there has been much discussion throughout this year of the unique challenges faced by teachers, counselors and educational support staffers.
As we wrote in a Nov. 8 editorial, Chitwood’s death “must have shaken school employees across Lancaster County.” It served as a “devastating reminder that we’re facing a lethal virus ... (and) cannot take every risk factor into account.”
As LNP | LancasterOnline’s Nephin explained last week, Lisa Driendl-Miller’s two children were among those who had received guidance from Chitwood at Manheim Township.
“I just knew that I needed to do something to help” other teachers, said Driendl-Miller, who is the executive director of the Lancaster Bar Association and its charitable arm, the Lancaster Law Foundation.
That is how Heroes in the Classroom got its start.
It’s understandable amid this deadly pandemic that many families — those with educators included — have been prompted to evaluate their end-of-life planning.
With the new program for teachers and their spouses, “attorneys taking part are providing a free phone consultation followed up by a signing appointment to execute a living will and health care power of attorney,” Nephin explained.
In doing such planning, some are taking into account factors that may never have been on people’s radar prior to 2020. Ann Martin, a partner at the Lancaster firm of Gibbel, Kraybill & Hess, explained to Nephin that she’s had clients “who already had plans in place ask to modify them to address medical care practices that COVID-19 has made more well-known, such as the use of intubation and mechanical ventilators.”
Making decisions now that keep others from having to make impossible-seeming choices on your behalf during a crisis is a kind of compassion, for sure.
“You don’t want to be putting your loved ones in a position of having to make a decision for you when they don’t know what your preferences may be or they don’t know who has the priority for you,” Martin said. “That’s really the challenge — getting those documents done before there’s any issues.”
Most people who are only in their 40s, 50s or 60s simply hadn’t thought of these issues before COVID-19. A virus that attacks those of all ages has changed the priorities of many.
As of last week, Driendl-Miller said the foundation had inquiries from more than 20 educators and that more than a dozen local attorneys have volunteered their time.
It is a noble outreach, one perhaps modeled after an effort that already existed for other heroes in our midst. The Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Wills for Heroes program provides police officers, firefighters, emergency medical personnel, other first responders and military veterans with free basic estate planning services.
We are glad volunteer efforts such as these exist, and that teachers are now considered in the same light as those other everyday heroes.
A way we can help
Few of us are lawyers who can volunteer our time to help those who need legal expertise. But everyone can write a greeting card and address an envelope. And that’s an easy task that can bring holiday cheer to others in this difficult month.
LNP | LancasterOnline’s Kevin Stairiker explained last week that holiday cards can provide rays of sunshine for senior citizens who are isolated in nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities in Lancaster County.
“In a non-pandemic year, the holidays would already be a time of loneliness for some seniors,” Stairiker wrote. “In an era of unprecedented death and hardship, senior homes are feeling it now more than ever.”
That’s where we can come in. And it only costs the price of a card and a stamp.
Stairiker provided a list of 10 local senior facilities that have confirmed that cards may be sent.
“During this time, a note from a perfect stranger can be the highlight of someone’s day,” said Colleen Musselman, Garden Spot Village’s director of life enrichment.
“They are a generation of people that sent and received letters,” added Michelle Young-Nell, marketing director at Lancashire Hall.
Here’s the list:
— Brethren Village, c/o Lauren Rineer, 3001 Lititz Pike, Lititz, PA, 17543.
— Conestoga View, 900 E. King St., Lancaster, PA, 17602.
— Fairmount Homes, 333 Wheat Ridge Drive, Ephrata, PA, 17522.
— Garden Spot Village, Attn: Life Enrichment, 433 S. Kinzer Ave., New Holland, PA, 17557.
— Lancashire Hall, c/o Michelle Young-Nell, 2829 Lititz Pike, Lancaster, PA, 17601.
— The Long Community at Highland, Attn: Assisted Living, 600 E. Roseville Road, Lancaster, PA, 17601.
— Masonic Village at Elizabethtown, c/o Emily Connors, MHCC-Therapeutic Recreation, 600 Freemason Drive, Elizabethtown, PA, 17022.
— St. Anne’s Retirement Community, Attn: Activities Department, 3952 Columbia Ave., Columbia, PA, 17512.
— United Zion Retirement Community, c/o Megan Weiss, 722 Furnace Hills Pike, Lititz, PA, 17543.
— Zerbe Retirement Community, 2499 Zerbe Road, Narvon, PA, 17555.
If you can, please share some holiday cheer the old-fashioned way and help fellow county residents get through this month. We give, they receive and everyone enjoys the spirit of the season.