In a lounge area near a fireplace, Joe Marcotte sets up a mic stand and plugs in a guitar.
It’s time for some tunes. And this is the kind of crowd that likes to sing along.
“Jesus loves me, this I know,” he sings, “for the Bible tells me so!”
And in the chairs and wheelchairs assembled before him in neat rows, the residents of Oaklawn Health Care Center sing-along. Some of them, anyway.
Marcotte comes here monthly, donating his time to entertain a population that doesn’t get as many visitors as we’d like to think.
He’s here as a volunteer for a Mankato-based organization called Gentle Shepherd Ministries. Gentle Shepherd sends volunteers to nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and county jails to conduct Bible study sessions, entertain groups or simply visit with folks.
The need is obvious. Gentle Shepherd Ministries founder Jerry David said surveys show that as many as 60 percent of nursing home residents do not get regular visits.
David said he noticed it when he was working as a chaplain at an area assisted-living facility.
“I feel they’re often forgotten in life and in ministry,” he said. “Pastors with busy schedules weren’t able to get there very often, and I felt their loneliness. My heart was drawn to them and broken over their needs. I felt God was calling me to a new ministry. And now we reach out to them.”
That’s what brought Marcotte, a retired Army colonel, to Oaklawn. He has a circuit of nursing homes and assisted-living facilities he visits regularly with his guitar and amp, cheering people up with gospel music.
“I like his music,” resident Sylvia Bruender said. “I think he’s wonderful. I’m a late riser, but for him I get up.”