Louise Abrahams Yaffe Award


Volunteer ombudsman make a difference in the lives of people living in area nursing homes one visit at a time. Every year, the Volunteer Ombudsman program honors an individual who has demonstrated remarkable service to elders in nursing homes with the Louise Abrahams Yaffe Award.​


​​IMAGE OF PAT LANGTONWhen I asked Pat why she became one of our  Volunteer Ombudsmen,  she shared that she just likes doing nice things for people. She said that after her retirement she wanted to use her gift of time to help others. Pat, a lifelong Wisconsin native, University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point graduate, elementary special education teacher, and animal lover, is our valued Volunteer Ombudsman in Marathon County.

Pat's journey to becoming a volunteer ombudsman began because she cared for her father, who lived with her family, until moving into a memory care unit. Pat said she was comfortable visiting with her father and the other residents in the memory care unit, and when her father passed away, she said she felt even stronger about taking time to do more for others.

Pat said that she read a message in the local newspaper about being an advocate, about becoming a volunteer ombudsman, and helping elders in nursing homes. Pat called the number provided, attended the mandatory class, was assigned to Benedictine Manor in Wausau, and that was early in 2015.​

In Pat's own words:

Being a volunteer ombudsman has had so many impacts on my life. When I first started after retiring, it filled my need to keep helping others that had always been such an important part of my being a special education teacher. And it definitely continues to do that for me every time I walk through those doors. But now that I have been doing it for a while, I also realize that my weekly visits have made my life so much richer. I have had residents make history come alive for me with their stories of surviving the depression and being overseas during World War II and the Korean War. I have also gained so many life lessons from residents who are willing to share their wisdom. Their stories of their lives with all they have had and all they have lost through their many years have provided me with so much to ponder about how to make my own life a good and meaningful life. The residents I have met have shown me coping strategies for how to deal with the tough parts of life and impressed me with how important it is to savor the good things while you are lucky enough to have them. There is something very deep down that I get from my visits that I am not sure I even have a word for. A few years back our community had a very sad and upsetting event when three people were killed in a shooting. Because it was so close to home and involved such innocent and upstanding people, it was very stressful for many people—me included. When I woke up the next morning, I realized that all I wanted to do that day was to go to Benedictine. I knew that there would be residents who would be upset. I wanted to make sure they had someone to talk to about it, but I also knew that making my visit that day would somehow help me feel better. And it did. When my visit was over, I walked out feeling much calmer and at peace than I did when I walked in. Since that day I have often come out to my car after finishing a visit and taken a moment to savor the joy and serenity I am feeling from the smiles I have seen and the conversations I just had. I am lucky to have an assigned facility where resident concerns are few and usually quickly addressed by staff. Being a volunteer ombudsman truly gives me back so much more than I can ever give.
Pat's weekly visits, before the pandemic, consisted of meeting with as many if not every resident who was available to meet. Pat would kindly ask each resident how their day was going, how they were feeling, and she would do this at the residents  eye level which meant Pat would be bending down or kneeling many times. It is all worth it as the residents light up and smile upon seeing Pat, and Pat really enjoys seeing them smile! Pat said she follows up with every resident concern to make sure “ things get taken care of", and that residents feel safe and heard.
Upon receiving her letter of congratulations on being selected as the 2021 Louise Abrahams Yaffe Volunteer Ombudsman Program award recipient, Pat said she was honored to have been selected and sent her thank you to this writer, her Volunteer Coordinator, the Board members and State Ombudsman.  She shared that this past year of not being able to safely make in-person visits has been very hard but staying connected so routinely to the volunteer ombudsman program through phone calls, virtual in-services and participating in the virtual resident council meetings was so helpful and valuable.
Pat indicated she is looking forward to the first day of being able to return to visiting the residents. She stated she knows it will be an emotional day of “catching up".
Pat and her husband, Dave, currently live in Mosinee. Their family consists of Ben, Tim and their wonderful daughter-in-law Carolyn. Pat shared, seriously, that in her marriage proposal she was promised that they would always have a dog. And that promise is still being kept. Currently, in addition to enjoying their grand-dog Toby, they have their own pooch named Scampy, their cat named Twinkie and a 30 year old cockatiel named Squeaky. 
What keeps Pat busy when she is not volunteering….last spring she and Dave were finally able to fulfill their twenty year dream of building their vacation home “up-north". A home near Lake Superior where they enjoy their favorite outdoor activities of bird watching, hiking in the woods, bumblebee counting, nature photography, fishing, kayaking, and snow-shoeing. Very awesome!
The Board on Aging and Long Term Care Volunteer Ombudsman Program is thankful to have Pat as a Volunteer Ombudsman and congratulates her on receiving the prestigious award. We look forward to presenting Pat her beautiful award and celebrating as soon as we can meet safely.


IMAGE OF BRENDA K. PULLEN-O'DONNELL Ms. Brenda has established meaningful family roots in Wisconsin. She was born in Kentucky, lived in   Arkansas, and moved to Milwaukee in the late 1960’s. She since has raised her own family, achieved her education, built a career of serving others and today calls the Northwest side of the city her home.

Brenda shared that she is a very private person, however, the relationships she has trustingly built with the residents at St. Johns on the Lake in Milwaukee, will indicate otherwise. Brenda has been a voice for the residents living at St. Johns since August 2016.

Brenda became a Volunteer Ombudsman  because she feels elders and children can often be mistreated. She shared that she wants to stand up for the elderly as they need someone to watch over them. Brenda does just that during her weekly visits to her assigned nursing home. The residents enjoy talking with her and she loves interacting with them. She said it’s a joy to listen to the stories of their past that way you get a photograph of their life! Brenda expressed a satisfaction from being present for someone who does not have anyone in their life, or who does not receive visitors.

Brenda is so dedicated to making her weekly resident centered visits to St. John’s that she brought her own hard hat, just in case, during the recent remodel of the facility. Yes, Brenda, has her own hard hat as she does much of her own home improvements including trimming her own trees!

It was especially challenging for Brenda during the facility remodel as many of the residents relocated to the assisted living component of the nursing home. Brenda had to say farewell to making room visits as the Volunteer Ombudsman Program focuses specifically on skilled nursing home residents.

Brenda went above and beyond during the facility’s transition. She added the commitment of weekly conference calls and joint facility visits with her coordinator in addition to her own weekly visits. She was a supportive, strong voice for the residents when they were afraid and stressed about moving. Brenda was diligent in supporting residents’ room requests during the transition. Her presence made the residents feel safe and their voices heard during this process.

Brenda’s focus during her routine visits includes monitoring the basic needs and comforts of the residents such as staff identification/respectfulness, facility cleanliness, food/meal satisfaction, access to clean linens, privacy issues, call light response times and consistently checking on the health status of residents, general resident requests, and building maintenance/ safety issues . Brenda attended every resident council meeting during her three plus years of resident centered advocacy- that’s invaluable dedication!

Brenda demonstrates a remarkable ability for establishing meaningful connections with both residents and staff she speaks with at the nursing home. She exhibits excellent recall with those individual’s names and their previous topics of conversations, leaving them with a smile on their faces. Her natural talent for building trust and putting others at ease makes her a genuine resident centered advocate.

It’s no wonder Brenda’s career path took her from many years of teaching of 3rd and 4th grade students, after earning her Bachelor of Science and a Master of Science in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee, to  a brief calling as a funeral director. Even though Brenda’s calling as a funeral director only lasted three plus years; she made an impact. Brenda would go the extra mile for those who did not have the means to pay for the funeral, like adding flowers to the casket, because after all, in her words it is a final memory.

Brenda keeps her days full, and when she is not being a dedicated Volunteer Ombudsman. She enjoys reading, trash -trolling to refurbish junk to treasures and traveling.

She has two daughters, one son, and five grandchildren. Some of the family members live in Wisconsin and some of them live in Arkansas. She did share her most memorable trips were to visit her son, while in the military, to Belgium and Japan. Brenda commented that she noticed and valued the close-knit family ties and respect shown to the elders by residents in Japan.

The Board on Aging and Long Term Care Volunteer Ombudsman Program plans to celebrate with Brenda and will present her with the Louise Abrahams Yaffe Volunteer Ombudsman Program Award as soon as we can gather, as we practice social distancing and safety during the  COVID-19 pandemic. A planned informal presentation with the Board on Aging during a Board of Directors meeting as soon as possible and then the formal presentation will take place during the 2021 Alzheimer’s state-wide conference and banquet. Congratulations and thank you, Ms. Brenda!


IMAGE OF DEBRA A. ROSSDebra is a true Wisconsin native who was born and raised in Milwaukee where she currently lives, works, and volunteers!

Debra came to the Volunteer Ombudsman Program after reading an article about the need for volunteer advocates in local nursing homes. Debra, in addition to working for 38 years as a full-time administrative assistant to the Senior Vice President of International Banking for the US Bank in Milwaukee, decided she could make time to attend training to become a Volunteer Ombudsman. Debra indicated she is and has been a volunteer in some capacity most of her life as it is in her nature to give back.

Debra has been a Volunteer Ombudsman for the Board on Aging and Long Term Care Volunteer Ombudsman Program for the past twelve years and counting. She has been a constant, diligent, and strong voice, on a weekly basis, for residents living in three different skilled nursing homes in Milwaukee. Debra, upon request from the Board on Aging, added the responsibility of making supplementary weekly visits to support the advocacy efforts of the Ombudsman Program during a recent nursing home closure. Debra’s visits helped residents feel supported and safe during the process of the closure which affected the quality of life for a substantial number of older people in Milwaukee.

Building trusting relationships with residents is Debra’s mission – being their voice is her passion. Debra meets with residents who need attention, but may be afraid to speak up on their own and are often simply grateful for any kind of care they receive. Debra says it’s the “little things” she has brought to the attention of nursing home staff that help make the residents’ lives a little nicer such as posting menus for residents at eye-level, including and providing the alternate menu choices upon request, meal satisfaction, fresh water, privacy, timely and polite call light response, clean linens, clean clothes, and clean living spaces are just a few.

Debra works closely with her Volunteer Coordinator and her Regional Ombudsman, and routinely provides them with residents’ concerns, the outcomes of concerns addressed and updates on facility staff changes, as well as, the facility name changes.  Her current facility has had three different names in two years. Debra provides observed and reported concerns to the Volunteer Coordinator and Regional Ombudsman that often surpass the “little things.” On one of Debra’s weekly nursing home visits she heard a wander-guard door alarm activated.  Noticing some staff’s apparent disregard of the alarm, she reported the alarm activation and observed lack of staff concern to the administrator and the Board on Aging. The facility staff ultimately took notice and located a missing resident on the roof-top of the building.  During another visit Debra reported a resident stating they felt harassed and fearful of involuntary discharge from the facility and wanted her help. With the resident’s permission Debra reported the resident’s concern and fear to the Regional Ombudsman. The resident received advocacy services from the Regional Ombudsman and remains in same location safe and happy.

Debra consistently makes visits to check on residents’ well-being on a specialized unit at her assigned nursing home. She has established a trusting relationship and has made an impact on the lives of a particular eighty year old mother and her sixty year old daughter as evidenced by this message given to the Board on Aging regarding Debra.  The message read:  “A volunteer named Deb comes to visit with me and my daughter, she is warm, comforting and caring. She is such a nice person and we always feel good after a visit from Deb.”

Debra is a recent widow, just three years ago losing the love of her life, husband of 43 years, Randy. She has two adult children Elizabeth, who is here tonight, and Eric, both of whom have families and live in Milwaukee. Debra shared she has one brother, Wayne, whom she is very close to and lives in a suburb of Milwaukee with his family. Debra enjoys spending time with her family, and she takes care of the multiple rental properties she owns in Milwaukee County.  She also volunteers for the Wisconsin Vietnam Veterans Association assisting with organizing and conducting the annual Vietnam Veteran annual fund-raiser and family picnic. Additionally, Debra volunteers for the United Yorkie Rescue, fostering Yorkshire Terrier dogs waiting to be adopted. She is fostering four dogs right now in her home.

Debra said,  above all, she feels it has been her honor and privilege to have the residents and their families feel comfortable enough to share feelings and life experiences with her, and to be able to let them know they are not alone, that we support them in this part of their journey.

The Board on Aging and Long Term Care is honored to recognize and to present Debra A. Ross with the prestigious Louise Abrahams Yaffe Volunteer Ombudsman Program Award. Congratulations Debra!​