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 Giving Back, Looking Forward

Providers and residents share multiple ways of finding and enhancing meaning in life at a long term care center.

 

​updated 9.6.19

Most people feel satisfaction and fulfillment when giving their time and attention for the benefit of others. For residents and patients in long term and post-acute care centers, donating time and energy for the greater good takes on a new meaning. As these individuals themselves receive attention and support, they continue to carry on their own personal traditions of serving others in spite of the challenges that a long term or post-acute diagnosis can bring.
 
There is a wide array of ways that providers help foster opportunities for residents to give back. What they share is their attention to the resident’s strengths and abilities. These opportunities—once taken advantage of by residents—help them meet their greater social, mental, and emotional needs.

A Close-Knit Family

Durand Senior Care and Rehabilitation Center in Durand, Mich., provides rehabilitation, memory care, and long term care. “A lot of people like me have been here for years,” says Bob Conklin, life enrichment director. “We are a close-knit family with residents and staff.”

The close-knit family has, over the years, engaged in a number of activities in an effort to give back to the greater community of Durand, Conklin says.

One way to give back is via fundraisers like bake sales, bazaars, craft shows, and pop can collections. Residents will then pick different charities to give the proceeds to.

Other collections residents take up go to people in need. During the most recent hurricane in Texas, for example, residents worked with staff to collect hundreds of items, including mattresses, beds, toys, and food and filled a truck headed for Texas.

Helping Those in Need

Last winter, residents donated to a restaurant that was open 24 hours so that individuals without homes could get warm and have a meal. Donations came from Durand’s pop can collection proceeds.

“We’ve also donated to food banks in the greater community,” says Conklin. “We’ve collected canned goods, and we’ve bought meat and given it to food banks locally in Durand and also church food banks.”
The residents at Durand engage in charitable giving all year round. During the holiday season, care packages are donated and sent to troops in Iraq. In the summer, the entire center opens its doors to the Durand community for the center’s Summer Fest.

“The residents are involved with this,” says Conklin. “We have games, a petting zoo; we have a trick or treat, and we invite the school kids.” The staff advertise the event in the local paper and several magazines that it is free and open to the public.

Making It Happen

To make an incredible number of charitable events happen, the life enrichment department, led by Conklin, meets once a month with the resident council. “We get the residents involved by asking what they would like to do, and they answer with a number of ideas for the hurricane victims or troops, and then we coordinate it,” he says. Durand’s marketing and admissions departments also help coordinate the events.

Members of the resident council play a big role, says Conklin. He says the Durand Center specializes in rehabilitation and memory care, “so it’s more our long term residents making their home here who are taking leadership positions.” It is typically the same residents, he says.

“We usually have two to three people that are really involved, but when it comes time for helping out with things like collecting items, or sending letters, for example, the residents are all out there,” he says.

Everyone Fills a Role

Some residents take on more unique roles. “We also have some residents who help do different things,” says Conklin. For example, “we have one of the residents that, when there is someone sick, even a staff member, she will get cards and get the staff and residents to sign them. She will pass out papers and newsletters.”

Ruth Penner, resident, Covenant Living at Windsor Park

Last year, the resident was recognized as Resident of the Year by the Health Care Association of Michigan. “It was the first year they had that award, and she got it,” says Conklin. “There’s lots of things that she does. She has her own activity—Trivia with Sally. She coordinates it, she takes attendance, and it’s usually once a week. Sometimes more. It really keeps her going.”

A number of residents were members of civic organizations in the past, and keeping up with similar activities makes them feel good. “It’s these opportunities that help them feel that life is more meaningful,” Conklin says.

But giving back to the outside community is something of a favorite activity for the residents. In the past, they picked a different charity each month and held a fundraiser. “Like we would pick a charity and sell pumpkins, for example, and donate the money to cystic fibrosis,” says Conklin. “We donated to St. Jude. We would include a letter that said, this donation is from the residents of Durand Senior Care and Rehab Center.”

Making a Musical Mark

A musical revolution is taking place at Rockville, Md.-based Charles E. Smith Life Communities, a 38-acre campus serving a full continuum of quality services and living options. Residents are staging recitals and oral presentations on topics of interest to them in buildings across the campus. They are known to go to considerable lengths to prepare for them and tell all their friends in the center, “Remember, I’m doing this presentation today, make sure you come down.”

Staff participate by putting out food and drinks. Musician-in-Residence Lauren Latessa is on hand to help performers with whatever they may need, but the residents are leading the program.

While the end result of residents taking center stage to talk about something they love is impressive, the work leading up to it is even more so. Like a homework assignment, there are practice sessions for the student, and the teacher—in this case, the campus musician, who assigns homework for them together.
They meet several times before the recital or presentation date to practice the piece or go over the topic to be presented.

On one such presentation, the topic was a love triangle between three different composers, Robert and Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms. The residents were intrigued by this topic, so they got together, planned it, and presented it.
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Coming a Long Way

Some more musical residents play instruments, including piano, harmonica, and guitar. They may practice their skill with the help of Latessa, and these residents put on actual concerts.

The music and presentation program is important to the residents at the Hebrew Home of Greater Washington, a skilled nursing center on campus, says Latessa. It allows the residents to express themselves, digging into their interests, studying up on them, and sharing their knowledge publicly with fellow residents and staff, she says.

Residents Dive In

Residents who have a background in music and those who are taking lessons for the first time work with Latessa one on one. “That’s a beautiful thing, seeing a resident dive in and learn something new,” she says. This fall, she has plans for helping residents to broaden their knowledge of music. “We’re going to have a class in the fall called Music 101 where we are going to teach note reading and the theory behind music,” she says.

“Some residents follow the score already while we have a recital, and many more have said they want to follow it.” In addition, there will continue to be open rehearsals for residents to attend.

Where They Are

“We’re teaching lessons and just really trying to reach people where they are in any given moment, so we are trying to connect however we can,” says Latessa. “About two years ago, we expanded the program to include more than just me, to include a professional violinist and a professional pianist.”

The three play together as an ensemble, giving concerts and recitals for the residents. “And all three of us are doing this kind of work—working with residents and running group programs and small work as well,” she says.

Latessa recalls a project in June that was a culmination of all the work in the music program to date. “We had a piece that was written for me and my colleagues, and we play it all the time and the residents love it,” she says. One resident loved it so much that he wrote lyrics to go along with it.

“So we developed the lyrics into parts for a chorus, so a chorus would have a part in this piece,” says Latessa.

The choir is made up of 20 residents and 10 volunteers to give the choir more strength, she says. “We rehearsed it, and we premiered it.” The residents who came to support their fellow housemates, family members, and members of the outside community filled the social hall, leaving standing room only.

A Collaborative Approach

To make the music program work, Latessa works collaboratively with the activity departments of the various buildings. It’s the collaborative approach that makes it work, an approach that is based on teamwork and communication. It is especially important for scheduling one on one lessons, group lessons, recitals, and resident presentations, she says.

“So much of this wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for very close coordination in building the schedule and putting the pieces together,” she says.

Coming Out of Her Room

Latessa recalls a story of a resident who didn’t want to budge from her room at the Hebrew Home. “I started visiting her in January, and we started working together every week,” says Latessa. “I started playing music for her, and we talked about how the music made her feel and what she thought about it, and from there we developed a class that was focused on exploring music that has meaning and the meaning of music.”

Pat HilbigSuddenly, the resident was coming out of her room to not only attend the program but lead it with Latessa every week. “She would sit up front with me, and she would actually talk with other residents about what makes music meaningful for her and her experience of music,” says Latessa. “
And to see that purpose in our music making meant so much. Musicians sometimes don’t have that sense of why we’re doing this.”

The key to continuing to do her work, says Latessa, is the ability to see how meaningful it is to the resident. “I see it every day,” she says. “To be able to follow someone from when they are able to work with you and design something, to when they have changed but are still with you, and then follow them to their final days, and to be the person that sits with them and plays music and provides them peace and comfort, that is an incredible thing to be able to do and an honor to be a part of.”
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Residents Take Charge

Covenant Living Communities & Services, based in Skokie, Ill., offers independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing, memory care, and rehabilitation in its continuing care retirement communities. Volunteer and work opportunities abound at Covenant Living, with residents choosing what they would like to do. Via Covenant Living’s whole-person wellness model, LifeConnect, for example, residents can engage in university-level courses through the dimension of intellectual  wellness.

At Covenant Living of the Great Lakes, located in Grand Rapids, Mich., resident Carol Ziegler is known for her retail experience. She’s been a resident on the campus for a number of years, and more than 10 years ago some fellow residents were looking for a way to help raise money for the community’s benevolent fund, which is for residents who run short of money when they live at Covenant Living.

So Ziegler joined others and helped open a thrift shop with the hope of raising money for the fund. It would also give a lot of fellow residents a chance to do something in-house where they would not have to leave the campus.

“A lot of our people don’t get around as well,” says Ziegler. “But they can do hall duty, they can work in the shop, etc. That was one of the big goals there.”

Exceeding Expectations

The thrift shop has grown over the years, and more people from outside the community come to shop. The number of volunteers has increased to 50.

“They do everything—working in the shop, they do cashiering, they hang clothes, they unpack boxes of donations, label pricing, and arrange things on shelves,” she says.

Ziegler also coordinates an annual garage sale where volunteers pitch in to help to raise $3,000 to $4,000 a year. “It’s work, but it’s a lot of people working together and having a good time,” she says. “We set up Monday and Tuesday, and on Wednesday afternoon we open up for our own residents and staff, and on Thursday and Friday we’re open to the public.”

A board of nine to 10 residents sets policy, does the main work, and plans other events like a big Christmas breakfast on site in the main dining room. This event includes a number of Christmas items such as jewelry and other gifts, all set out on tables so visitors can shop on site. During an evening open house, Ziegler and her team expected to raise about $5,000 but they exceeded their goal and raised $20,000.

More than Service

“I’ve been thrilled to work with the resident council from the beginning; it’s been a great way to give back,” says Ziegler. “We just really enjoy doing it. I’ve been a resident for about 11 years. I’m part of the board, and we each on the board have our talents and our gifts.” 

Ziegler sums it up as serving others and points out the benefits for other residents. “It’s just being of service, and the residents that come down—it’s not only a work time for them, it’s a social outlet,” she says. “Some can’t get around, but they can do hall duty. So there’s lots of opportunities for people, and the new ones that come in can find their niche.”

Artist in Residence

Also at the Great Lakes community is Mary Lee Wilkinson, a resident with five-plus years on site. Her contribution to the community and the residents has been helping to open an arts and crafts studio. She helped to put a committee together and worked to bring it to life during the spring of 2015.

A year and a half later, the studio opened, complete with heat, air conditioning, sinks, cabinets, and donated art equipment from Wilkinson and others. The studio includes a pottery area with the rest being devoted to painting and crafts. 

Wilkinson’s art background has helped her in the studio venture, she says. She was an art teacher in public schools for 15 years and then taught art to adults for 20 years. At Covenant, she was heavily involved as the chairperson for the arts and crafts studio. In addition, she teaches classes at the studio.

Teaching her Passion

“I’m 87, so it’s getting a little harder to stand on that cement floor, but I try and do it, because I love it and it’s my passion,” she says. “It is the area that I can contribute to and volunteer for, and that’s about all I do to volunteer my time.” 

Wilkinson teaches watercolor and some drawing. She has also taught journaling. “This is where you have a journaling book and you use mixed media to create beautiful pages in there,” she says. “We use photographs and lettering, and people have really gotten some healing from losing spouses by just creating that journal in honor of them. It’s very therapeutic.” 

She recalls one student who had just lost her husband and became a close friend. “She came and did her whole book in honor of her late husband,” says Wilkinson. “She wrote the nicest paragraph in there. We have a brochure about the arts and crafts studio, and she has a nice story in there about how it helped her heal. That’s a nice one.”

One of the challenges that Wilkinson has encountered with her fellow residents has to do with attitude. “There’s an attitude with older people—maybe not just older people—but many people think, ‘I can’t draw,’” says Wilkinson. “That is my challenge—to teach them that they can. And then from there we go to painting or something else, and they find that they can indeed create beautiful things.”

After several years of the art studio being open, residents are now really coming down and wanting to talk about it. “And that’s a good thing,” she says.

She shares another story of a resident who came into Wilkinson’s watercolor class one day, never having done watercolor or drawing. “She took right to it and did the most beautiful painting of a rose,” says Wilkinson. “She is going to be our new chairman this coming year, which is wonderful for me because I am tired. I just want to paint.”

The future for Wilkinson is bright, even as she steps down from her leadership role with the studio but continues to teach. 

Reflecting on her time as chair, Wilkinson has no regrets. “I thought I had put in my time, and I will continue to teach as long I can, and I am helping out with the gallery,” she says. 

Wilkinson was a one-person show, as there was no one else that had her experience with the arts. “But I enjoyed it; it was exciting to start something new and be involved in something that could help others,” she says. “I have enjoyed it tremendously and had good people to work with.” 

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