HOSCHTON, Ga. (AP) — Wearing shoulder-length gloves, Kitty Hunt stuck her arms through two holes of a large plastic wall and embraced her mother.
“I was just tickled to death,” Hunt said with emotion. “Touch just goes beyond words.”
Hunt, who lives in Hoschton, said her visit to The Oaks at Braselton on Friday, Aug. 28, marked the first time she has held her 97-year-old mother since March. The assisted living facility closed its doors to visitors during the beginning of the pandemic and only started offering socially distanced outdoor visits in August.
Erika Fenley, wellness director of The Oaks at Braselton’s memory care unit, said the “hugging booth” was erected outside the building Wednesday, Aug. 26. She said the idea sparked after seeing a similar structure on Facebook. Soon afterward, Erika asked her husband, Jason Fenley, to build one.
Not wanting to back down from a challenge, Jason said he set to work constructing a hugging booth from a shower curtain, plastic tarp and wood. Erika said the required gloves for the structure — which the staff dispose of after every visit — are used in veterinarian clinics.
As Jason set up the booth outside The Oaks at Braselton, he said the facility’s residents lit up with excitement.
“I was a submarine sailor in the Navy, so I know what it’s like going without a hug from your loved ones for a while,” Jason said.
Summer Wilkie, the assisted living facility’s lifestyle director, said she gathered several residents to help decorate the plastic wall with laminated hearts. Each day since Aug. 26, she has helped schedule hugging booth visits with families.
Wilkie said those who use the structure don’t simply offer a quick hug, they hold each other.
“It has made me cry, I’m not going to lie,” she said. “Being able to connect our elders to their loved ones in such a creative way has been such a gift to everyone. Touch is such an integral part of a person’s well-being.”
Gay Lowry of Hoschton said she was delighted to embrace her 98-year-old mother-in-law on Monday, Sept. 1, after only communicating behind glass for months.
“You could tell she just so longed for the arms of people who loved her,” she said. “It just made all the difference in the world.”
Martha Glenn of Gainesville and her sister, Karol Scarborough, visited their 84-year-old mother on Thursday, Aug. 27, at The Oaks at Braselton.
At first, Glenn said her mother was hesitant about sticking her gloved hands through the hugging booth, not knowing exactly how it worked.
“We explained it to her,” she said. “Once we got her arms through and hugged on her, she enjoyed it and was laughing. It meant everything to us.”