Residents at Woodridge Rehabilitation and Nursing raised funds for Ukraine – an opportunity they say connects them to the larger community.
Woodridge Rehabilitation and Nursing was awash in blue and yellow for a couple of days last month when residents gathered – wearing the colors of the Ukrainian flag – to make t-shirts, cupcakes and pins for a silent auction at Twinfield Union School. The fundraiser gathered donations in support of those who have been affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Matthew Parker, a resident of Woodridge Rehabilitation and Nursing and the president of Woodridge’s Resident Council, helped lead the endeavor. The former professor, whose door is adorned with a “Freedom for Ukraine” sign and a Ukrainian flag, said he was moved to help because of the troubling political parallels he sees between this conflict and other, darker periods of European history.
We spoke to Parker about the auction (which raised $2,460 for World Central Kitchen), his love of poetry and his personal connection to Eastern Europe.
How did you get involved in the donation effort?
It was through Amanda Cantiello, the Care Management and Life Enrichment Director here at Woodridge. Her kids were involved in a fundraiser at Twinfield, a high school out in Plainfield, and she thought maybe Woodridge residents would be interested in participating. She contacted me because she noticed the signs I have on my door.
She asked me if I had any ideas about fundraising. I suggested t-shirts, and then we talked about cupcakes, pins and flags – cloth flags for people to tack onto their shirts. The Woodridge residents got involved, helping make the cupcakes and decorate them. And I did the pins.
What is it about the war in Ukraine that resonates with you so deeply?
It’s the families, really. Women and children are having to leave their homes and go elsewhere in order to be safe, or they're being killed. People are having to fight just to defend their homes. There’s so much suffering and destruction happening there for no good reason.
I’ve long been interested in history, and recently I've been watching documentaries about World War II. The rise of Hitler and the way he became so powerful in Germany and what he did to Poland and other neighboring countries is all so similar to what is happening with Russia today. The horrors of World War II could easily happen again. Actually, I think they are happening now.
Do you have a personal connection to Ukraine?
I’ve spent more than 20 years teaching English as a Second Language at Norwich University and St. Michael’s College, and I had many students that were from Ukraine, Poland, Bulgaria and Latvia. When the war started, I became concerned about them. I have kept in touch with a former student who lives in Poland with his wife and young children. We talk by Zoom every Sunday morning.
As a matter of fact, he and his family gave up their apartment to Ukrainian refugees. They had been in the process of building a house and they moved in ahead of time and did a little camping while the construction was going on so that Ukrainians could live in their apartment. He keeps me updated on what’s happening.
You’re known around Woodridge for your love of poetry. Are there any poems that occur to you when you think about the war?
Yes, a poem Wilfred Owen wrote, “Dulce et Decorum Est.” It’s about the use of poison gas in WWI and its effects. He was a soldier in WWI who was killed in action. The poem paints a grisly description of the horrors of this sort of conflict, which applies as much to the war in Ukraine as it does to WWI.
There’s another, too, by my favorite poet, Robert Frost, called “The Tuft of Flowers.” It’s not about war. It’s actually about two people who suddenly discover something that brings them together in thought and feeling. That’s what’s happening now with everyone who is uniting behind the Ukrainian people. As the poem states, “‘Men work together,’ I told him from the heart,/ ‘Whether they work together or apart.’”
Are there any plans to contribute to another fundraiser?
I've mentioned that to Amanda. I’m so glad we had the opportunity here at Woodridge to contribute to a bigger cause, and to feel connected to our larger community. Even if the war were to end today, people over there would still need help rebuilding their country and getting back to their country. The help that they need is not going to stop overnight. So yes, I’d love to do more.