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 Honoring 500 Heroes in 47 Ways

 

 

Every autumn, Centers Health Care, which operates 47 long term and post-acute care centers in New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Missouri, and Kansas, gears up to do something special for veterans for Veterans Day. Nearly 500 veterans either reside or are employed at 47 Centers Health Care centers, and two new Midwest locations in Topeka and Wichita, Kan., will soon care for more veterans. 

For many years, the marketing department would create a certificate for veterans and host a photo day with families, friends, staff, and other residents. A ceremony would include a dedication cake, music, and a special toast to the veterans. Some facilities even offered live music. For those veterans who may be too weak or ill to be part of the day’s ceremony, they are honored with a photo and cake brought to their room.

Recently, Centers Health Care decided to go beyond certificates and cake. Each facility now displays a “Wall of Honor,” which is enshrined and dedicated to the facility’s veterans. The wall includes a poster of all the military branches, a wood display case with a veteran certificate personalized for that facility, a flag that was flown over the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., and framed headshot photos of each resident veteran. 

A Team Effort 


While doing a “Wall of Honor” isn’t anything new, constructing 47 of them was a big achievement for Centers Health Care. With a combination of the recreation, marketing, and public relations departments, all Walls of Honor were completed by late October. How the staff made this happen had much to do with meetings, creativity, and execution. 

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The Wall of Honor at Cooperstown Center. Cooperstown, NY. 
Photo: Courtesy of Centers Health Care

In June, the first meeting took place with the heads of marketing and public relations brainstorming something extraordinary that would make each facility proud of their veterans. The idea of having a Wall of Honor was decided on but it was still in its infancy stages. Staff knew there would be (1) a framed poster with a logo of each military branch on that poster, along with a recognition quote from the company to its veterans and (2) photos of each veteran which would list their name and branch of service. 

But there needed be something else, something that would put it over the top. Instead of the annual saluting of the flag that takes place across each facility, the team decided that a special flag for each facility would come from each state senator where the facility is located. The public relations department started working with each senator and coordinated 47 special American flags that flew over the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (one for each facility), 47 dedicated certificates, and wood display cases. 

Putting it into Action


In August, a second meeting occurred with the marketing, public relations, and recreation teams. The teams created a timeline and marked Oct. 31 as the day each facility would receive the framed Wall of Honor poster, the individual veteran framed photo, a framed logo of their prospected facility, and the framed flag, and senator certificate. Tasks were divided and the marketing department was to create the framed poster, framed individual veteran photos, and framed facility. 

Public relations would compile each flag and certificate and have the flag properly folded in a triangle. Both items would be placed into the display case. The public relations team had a series of conference calls to reinforce the task at hand and determine the invitees from each location. The team determined who would head up the Veterans Day ceremony, preferably someone from a local American Legion. 
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Veterans and staff member Joseph Wright is honored by Administrator David Liff at Hope Center in the Bronx, NY.
Photo: Courtesy of Centers Health Care.

Challenges 


Recreation departments in all Centers facilities invited members of the local American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), and local law enforcement to attend the events and present the flag and personal certificates to the residents. Each facility’s recreation director spent many hours calling, scheduling, and confirming the event date. In some cases, confirming the guest of honor happened on the last day.
  
Each center aimed to have at least one distinguished guest of honor to lead the ceremonies. The guest would say a few words, hand the certificates to each veteran, and distribute the cased flag to the resident and staff veterans. 
Each center was also challenged to brainstorm what other features each event would include. For example, at Washington Center in Argyle, New York, the event also included patriotic singing by the Argyle Central School Chorus. Another example took place at Hammonton Center in Hammonton, New Jersey, where a bagpiper performed.
Finding the Right Spot
While most facilities had the wall specified either in their dining room, main hallway, reception area, or activity room, some designated the wall to a special area where families and friends would view it out of the way from the regular foot traffic. Each facility is different, and each administrator is different. 

Bringing People Together


One of the most beautiful aspects of the Veterans Wall of Honor campaign was the coming together of veterans from the American Legion and VFW posts as they honored their elder fellow veterans. Some saluted one another, many shook hands, and some even embraced with hugs and tears. 

In addition to veterans coming together, activities and recreation staff throughout many of Centers’ facilities, discovered a new side of a friendship. For example, at Schenectady Center in Schenectady, NY, Kristen Pidgeon, recreation director, and Julianne Scopa, assistant director, got even closer as colleagues.

“Veterans Day is always a very emotional day at the Schenectady Center,” says Pidgeon. “I have often felt the brunt of the work on me, so it was really nice to have someone to share that with. This was a huge undertaking in our large facility and I really couldn’t have done it without Julianne. We make an amazing team.”

For the author, seeing the veterans being honored by their own is something that will never be forgotten. This was seen first hand at the Beth Abraham Center ceremony in the Bronx, NY as three American Legion personnel saluted and embraced one another after the resident veterans received their certificate. 

Lessons Learned


Two lessons emerged from the Walls of Honor project. The first is start early and the second is get an early start. To start early, it is best to begin planning five months in advance. Veterans Day falls on Nov. 11, so starting in May or June is ideal. 

To order a flag that has been flown over the U.S. Capitol, start the request via the center’s state senator. It can take two months to receive it and it will typically not be pre-folded. A local American Legion Post may be able to help with folding. 

The second lesson, “get an early start,” refers to the team. Get an early start with the team by assembling it early, including the marketing and recreation director. Encourage everyone to think five to six months out. No matter the number of facilities involved, the team needs to identify and tackle the main challenges head on and early. 

Keep in mind that local American Legion and VFW offices can take some time to respond because the members are retired and phones are typically manned only part-time. Do not get discouraged and keep on trying. Persistence pays off.

All things considered, get a heartwarming vision of what should be achieved to honor the great veterans at the facility. Communicate that version with the staff and work together to make it happen. The veterans at Centers Health Care loved being recognized. Whether they are residents or staff, veterans are heroes and very special people in the country. 

Jeff Jacomowitz is an award-winning public relations professional and journalist and currently the public relations director at Centers Health Care, with more than 47 nursing homes and rehabilitation centers in the country. As a contributing writer for The Patch, Jeff specializes in health care and medicine. He can be reached at: jjacomowitz@centershealthcare.org. 
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