Benches placed at nursing home in memory of Girl Scout

Hailee Jones loved visiting Seymour Crossing.

Reading to the nursing home’s residents or pushing them around in their wheelchairs made Hailee smile. The residents enjoyed it, too.

On July 23, 2014, Hailee, who had autism and epilepsy, had a seizure while sleeping and died. She was about a month from her 14th birthday.

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She’s now at the nursing home in spirit.

Two years after Hailee’s death, her mother, Tabitha Norris, wanted to do something in her memory. She had heard about Green Tree Plastics in Evansville offering a program called A Bench for Caps, where plastic caps and lids are recycled and turned into a bench.

She shared that with Hailee’s former Girl Scout troop leader, Darlene Beavers, who spread the word on social media that she was collecting caps and lids to get two benches.

It took a little longer than expected, but May 7, she finally had everything she needed, including the $200 processing fee.

With the help of her husband and brother, the collection was loaded into the back of two trucks, and they returned home with the benches and took them to the nursing home on South Jackson Park Drive.

Patience and persistence paid off.

“We didn’t give up,” Beavers said. “I can’t describe how much the community really came together and did this for us. We are really grateful.”

Norris said she had mixed feelings the first time she saw the benches along the sidewalk to the main entrance.

“My daughter was cremated, so we didn’t have a headstone, so it was kind of like an ending but then like a new beginning, too,” she said. “It’s nice she can be remembered in such a nice way because you get a lot of use out of these. Plus, since I work here so much, I walk that hall constantly, so I can always look out here.”

The previous benches were more than 30 years old and made of wood. The new ones should last 125 years and are made of plastic, Beavers said.

“My residents really love the benches and see specks of pink and blue in them,” Norris said. “This has been my home for almost 20 years. They knew about Hailee when it happened, and they’ve been my grievance therapy. They were just as excited when we put them out here.”

They plan to put placards on the benches letting people know they are in memory of Hailee.

“I think it’s good for people to bring their kids to the nursing home and let that gap be filled because my daughter absolutely loved coming here and just getting to know the residents,” Norris said. “In her mind, there wasn’t an age difference, and she was an old soul, so she really loved it.”

Norris said she just doesn’t want people to forget Hailee.

“To me, it’s a good way to remember her,” she said of the benches. “She always did so much for other people, so this is another way that she gives back to people.”

Beavers received donations of caps and lids from a variety of sources. That included Seymour Crossing.

“We had so many needle caps. All of the nurses saved all of theirs for it,” Norris said. “The residents saved all of their lids off of their Coke bottles and stuff, so they got very involved.”

Norris wanted the nursing home to lead the project, but it had to come from kids as a recycling learning experience.

Since Beavers used to be Hailee’s Girl Scout troop leader, Norris asked her to help.

“I don’t think we would have done it without Darlene. Darlene was the ringleader,” Norris said. “She loved Hailee. She was the only Girl Scout troop leader that would even taken Hailee because of her special needs. She took her right on, so I knew she would do it.”

For the smallest bench, it takes 400 pounds of caps and lids — 10 55-gallon trash bags full — and then there’s the processing fee.

“It was really important to me because I felt like Hailee was almost like my second daughter when I took her in as my Girl Scout,” Beavers said. “I treated her no different than I did anybody else. Tabitha joined us many times, and she can tell you I loved her just like I did anybody in the troop. There was just something special about her.”

Beavers said she doesn’t understand why other troops wouldn’t accept Hailee, but she was happy to do it. Hailee and Beavers’ daughter, Dawn, became best friends.

“They just need to accept all girls,” Beavers said. “If they are willing to join, they need to accept it.”

Norris said parents should encourage their children to introduce themselves to those with special needs so they don’t feel isolated.

“A lot of parents don’t know how to deal with special needs,” Norris said. “Darlene, she may not have, either, but she just did the ‘Hello, how are you?’ just like Dawn did. They didn’t see a difference in her.”

The other girls in the troop accepted Hailee, too.

“They treated her just like a plain human being like I am,” Dawn said. “They treated her like there was no special needs to her. There was just a perfect, normal human being that didn’t need to be hurt. She just had to be herself.”

Norris said Hailee had some behavior issues, but everyone was patient with her.

“I appreciate that because some days were super-difficult,” she said.

Hailee was in Girl Scouts for four years. Beavers said it took three years to get her to join a circle and recite the Girl Scout promise at the end of a meeting. That all changed when Norris became a Girl Scout leader.

“The best thing about Hailee is when she would come home, that’s what she would say, ‘I got to feel normal today,’” Norris said. “As a mother, you can’t beat that feeling. You just really can’t.”