The American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) are pleased to announce the individual and group winners of their annual awards. They want to commend all of the award recipients for their selfless service and care.


Adult Volunteer of the Year
Prepare to be humbled. Volunteer Rebecca Riggins is truly one-of-a-kind and has put more heart into her volunteering than one would think possible. As if her interaction with residents of McDowell Nursing and Rebecca RigginsRehabilitation Center in Gary, W.Va., is not enough, Riggins coordinates with community organizations and churches to provide activities that include birthday parties, Christmas shopping and in-facility holiday
events, adopt-a-resident (or group of residents), pet therapy (well, it is her dog!), and intergenerational programs (well, they are her grandchildren!), and she often purchases items requested by residents. Yet her weekly time at the facility is not all about being busy.
“Becky is without a doubt my best friend and confidant,” says resident Charlotte Mitchem. “She has given me the motivation to keep going even when life gets difficult.”
Comments like this offer a window into the thinking of Administrator Patty Lucas when she says, “Without Rebecca our facility may not have reached the quality standards that we have.” Wilma Johnston, activity director, sums up this volunteer’s qualities: “Rebecca’s attitude and motivation are an inspiration to everyone she encounters.”
—Tom Burke


Not-for-Profit Services of the Year

The residents of West Jordan Care Center (WJCC), West Jordan, Utah, have developmental and intellectual disabilities. Most residents are medically fragile and have seizure disorders and physical disabilities. The facility, Utah’s only Eden Alternative-registered home, developed a mission statement based on its Eden commitment: “We are on a mission to create a community that provides human growth, spontaneity, and compassion by enhancing meaningful relationships, activities, and independence. Our promise is to give our residents a life worth living!” Basically that means, “While caring for the body, we feed the spirit.”

Staff live their mission, too. Take the center's community outreach program, Caring for Kids—Paying Back in Community Service. The community benefit program works with troubled youth who have been court-ordered to provide community service as restitution for minor or petty offenses. WJCC provides a venue in a structured environment that allows children to assist in the kitchen, gardens, greenhouse, and planned events and activities.

These “volunteers” are taught about people with disabilities, people-first language, the benefit of having an inclusive society, and the challenges that face people with disabilities in being accepted as valued members of the community.

In the past three years, WJCC has hosted nearly 1,400 community service hours. Many of the volunteers return to volunteer on their own; some even apply for WJCC jobs when they are old enough. After 17 years, Caring for Kids is seeing increasing referrals from courts and families because they know that WJCC staff mentor children and provide substantial learning experiences and meaningful relationships.
—Tom Burke


Young Adult Volunteer of the Year

Fifteen-year-old volunteer Alexis Nast could be thought of as the “Director of Encouragement” at the 200-bed Pines at Poughkeepsie, just north of New York City. Facility Administrator Dana Diorio-Casey shares why Nast is such a valued volunteer: “She has discovered the secret of happiness—caring for others brings joy tenfold back to the person. Alexis is a mix of the joy of youth and the maturity of an old soul.”
Alexis with residents
Resident Geraldine Johnson says that “Alexis has a passion for working with the elderly and a good work ethic.” After two years of steady service, with increased hours during summer vacation, it is apparent that Nast enhances residents’ quality of life by bringing the outside community to them, along with other student volunteers and a new Adopt-a-Grandparent program.

“Alexis is a great resource to us,” says Karen Barone, Pines’ director of recreation. “She is comfortable with all residents regardless of cognitive level or physical limitations. Alexis is respected by residents, their families, and the staff.” Her time at the facility is spent in one-on-one visits, nail polishing, transporting residents, delivering items to rooms, and encouraging residents to participate in group activities.

Nast is especially adept with people with Alzheimer’s disease. “Rebecca has excellent communication skills,” notes Director of Nursing Colleen Gibb, “is self motivated, independent, and a pleasure to have as a volunteer.”
—Tom Burke


DD Hero of the Year

Carolyn Olson has found her passion in life through volunteering, and it is reflected in the faces of residents at CARC, a multi-faceted ICF/MR for persons with developmental disabilities (DD) in Carlsbad, N.M.

“She encourages the community to recognize that individuals with DD share the same needs as all other members of the community and encourages the community to support these individuals,” says Mark Schinnerer, CARC chief executive officer.

Carolyn OlsonOlson is an active member of the CARC community and volunteers for a number of programs, including the CARC Farmhouse Bargain Store and the CARC Human Rights Committee, and is president of the CARC Board of Directors.

However, Olson is best known and recognized for the time and energy she dedicates to the Area IV Special Olympics programs.

Olson, the overall coordinator of the program, recruits community members, including the local fire and police departments, church groups, and others to participate in unified sports leagues alongside individuals with DD. She also is the coach for several Special Olympics teams, including bocce, aquatics, and bowling. Olson has been an active participant in the Special Olympics program since the early 1970s and exemplifies the Special Olympics motto, “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
—Tom Burke


Group Volunteer of the Year
Seniors Aid New Hampshire is a one-of-a-kind group. It consists of residents from more than 37 facilities in the state.

In 2006 as part of a campaign to promote culture change and person-centered care, the New Hampshire Health Care Association (NHHCA) sponsored several resident forums. From these, attendees found they shared a vision to ensure that older adults who wished to remain active contributors to society were given the chance to do so. These founding members agreed on a mission to help charitable causes that benefit the long term care community and the greater state community. The mission also includes advocacy if called for.

An example of Seniors Aid fundraising prowess is the $120,000 given to the New Hampshire Food Bank over a five-year period. Funds were raised by the members working within their communities.

Yet beyond the dollars lies a deeper meaning, identified by Mel Gosselin, executive director of the Food Bank. “Participating seniors inspire their friends, family, and neighbors by showing that philanthropy has no age limit.” The bottom line is that Seniors Aid is a “thriving organization that changes the lives of many people living in long term care,” says John Poirier, president and chief executive officer of NHHCA. Life continues, especially when mission meets motivation.
—Tom Burke


Noble Caregiver in Assisted Living

Ernest Kastner is more than the director of environmental services for Van Dyk Park Place in Hawthorne, N.J.

“He is not that ‘maintenance guy’ who replaces a light bulb and moves on to the next task, he is the guy that dances up the ladder, changes the light bulb, and dances back down the ladder, making his audience cheer!” says Jaime Cerritelli, Van Dyk Park Place’s director of activities and volunteers. “His passion for life and desire to make people happy shine through each and every task he completes.”
Ernie Kastner
It’s those characteristics that made him the 2012 Noble Caregiver in Assisted Living. This award is given to a frontline staff person from any department who contributes to the positive well-being of the residents and the morale in the assisted living community. He also demonstrates initiative and performs above and beyond the call of duty.

Cerritelli says that Kastner spends his personal time reading and learning so he can give presentations to
the residents. He also delivers the homily at memorial services.

Kastner can be found in a hula skirt having a good time with the residents. He’s equally as good at spending quality one-on-one time with them.

“He has no problem taking a break in his day to sit and talk with residents who may be down. When he sees a staff member who needs help with a task, he makes sure that he gets involved and empowers them to be the best that they can be,” Cerritelli says.

Kastner understands how to be a leader. He joined Van Dyke Place in 2008.

“He listens to resident suggestions, takes them seriously, and truly understands how to be a leader,” says Cerritelli. “The beauty in his character is not what he does to make our community a better place, but how he does it with heart.”
—Lisa Gluckstern


NCAL Assisted Living Nurse of the Year

Staff and residents at The Chelsea at Tinton Falls, in New Jersey, benefit from the dedication and passion of Beverly Johnston, RN, C-AL, director of health services.

“She works tirelessly to give dignity to all by addressing the needs of mind, body, and soul, not only involving her caregivers but the entire staff,” says Kathie Deak, executive director of the Tinton Falls residences. Deak nominated this year’s recipient of the 2012 NCAL Assisted Living Nurse of the Year.
Johnston has been the residences’ health services director since 2005. She supervises 25 health care workers and coordinates the health care and personal care needs of 70 residents.

Johnston exhibits the critical leadership, supervisory, and teamwork skills that are inherent in providing high-quality care in the assisted living setting.
Beverly Johnston
“When encountering difficulties, she enlists the cooperation of outside providers, such as social workers, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech therapists, as well as frontline staff,” says Deak.

“She listens to each one’s point of view and leads them to establish a plan to address those needs together. Because all of the disciplines are involved, everyone shares in the outcomes and strives to have positive results. She sees to it that everyone also shares in the success.”

Johnston effectively communicates with family members, physicians, staff, and other stakeholders about the needs of the resident, Deak says.

“Understanding the emotional turmoil that family members face, she meets with them on their own time, often nights or weekends, to fully communicate the complexities of their loved one’s diagnosis, care, and treatment,” Deak says.

Johnston’s reputation in the surrounding medical community is well known. Recently, she helped develop a protocol for a local hospital’s geriatric emergency medicine program that improved the communication between caregivers at the hospital and the assisted living centers. A local physician told a prospect for head of a department of The Chelsea at Tinton Falls that Johnston “ran a tight ship,” and there could be no better place to work.

“Her favorite mantra is, ‘Know your resident,’ a philosophy incorporated in everything she does,” says Deak, adding, “She adjusts to changing situations quickly and is never flustered. She is ever patient, kind, considerate, and is that ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ person we all hope to have in our lives.”
—Lisa Gluckstern
NCAL Administrator of the Year

When a staff member told her about a resident’s desire to see Mt. Rushmore, Helen Crunk, RN, administrator of Mable Rose Estates in Papillion, Neb., immediately said, “Let’s do it.”

Crunk wore many hats during the weeklong trip. She drove the van 1,100 miles round trip, carrying a total of 10 adults—seven residents and four children—to fulfill one resident’s dream. She also acted as attendant nurse to the residents on the trip.

While the trip may have been a once-in-a-lifetime event, Crunk exhibits leadership daily, holding to a high standard of person-centered care for the residents and advocating for her staff and residents.

Crunk is the 2012 NCAL Administrator of the Year. The award is the highest national honor an assisted living administrator can receive.

An independent panel of judges from across the nation reviews nominations each year, but the names of nominees and community locations are not provided to the panel. This is the second time Crunk has received the award—she had won it earlier in 2007.

Lisa Summers, memory support director for Mable Rose, an affiliate of Hillcrest Health Systems, believes the Mt. Rushmore trip reflects Crunk’s commitment to her staff and residents. Summers was the staff member who told Crunk that she wanted to make a 90-year-old resident’s dream of seeing Mt. Rushmore come true.

 “She is continually an active advocate for seniors and accepts nothing less than the absolute highest quality of care and standards for her residents,” says Summers. “She plays an active role in advocating for those in her community, state, and nation.”

The Bellevue Chamber of Commerce named Crunk Nebraska Business Woman of the Year. She participates in the state’s public television series on dementia and was recently named chair of NCAL’s Quality Committee.

“She took this weeklong journey of a lifetime to help fulfill a dream for our resident. Really, who does that? My administrator does that,” Summers says, adding, “She is well respected and admired by her peers and the team she leads. She creates leaders, promotes talents, and empowers others to reach their full potential. She exhibits every trait found in a great leader and serves as a role model for all those expressing the desire to serve our senior population.”
—Lisa Gluckstern


NALW Programming Award

The 2011 National Assisted Living Week (NALW) celebration began on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, tragedy. On that Sunday, the Riverside Lodge Retirement Community, Grand Island, Neb., held a parade that included the state’s lieutenant governor, Grand Island’s mayor, and a float made by Riverside Lodge residents, with all the names of those who perished on 9/11 on its sides.

The Statute of Liberty was painted on the back of the float by a Riverside Lodge resident who is a 98-year-old retired art teacher. Riverside Lodge veterans marched in the parade, along with local Boy and Girl Scout troops and the local high school’s cheerleaders and drum and flag corps.

Riverside Lodge’s long-time staff members Grace Nordlund, assisted living activity coordinator, and Cathy Roark, resident services coordinator, designed, planned, and implemented a week full of programming that successfully integrated the 2011 NALW theme, “Forever Proud,” into all of its activities. Their work so impressed the NCAL Awards judges that they made Riverside Lodge the 2012 National Assisted Living Week Programming Award recipient.

“We are ‘Forever Proud’ of our God, country, community, culture, accomplishments, and military, which is why these were chosen as the areas to program activities around,” wrote Nordlund and Roark on their award application.

To celebrate the military, three Riverside Lodge residents spoke about their war experiences. The residents baked cookies and had them delivered to the Riverside Lodge veterans group.

Local businesses that had been visited by residents were invited during the week to share their histories and memories. An owner from Lee’s Family Restaurant, a family-owned business for three generations and a local favorite, gave a presentation and served up its famous mile-high Sour Cream Raisin Pie. The marketing director from the Union Pacific Railroad gave a presentation on the company’s history and afterward asked residents who had worked for the railroad to share their memories. Celebrating the local community featured a resident who was instrumental in moving Henry Fonda’s birth house to Grand Island.

Two staff members, dressed as movie stars Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, danced to the waltz part of the USO show. Residents dressed up as the Andrews Sisters, Liberace, Judy Garland, and Marilyn Monroe. Everyone sang to songs from the Big Band era or Shirley Temple movies. Residents enjoyed a tailgate party before the Nebraska University Huskers played Washington State’s Huskies.

“The activities of [NALW] week are an extension of the type of activities that we offer on an ongoing basis,” Nordlund and Roark wrote. “Our program focuses on the body, mind, and spirit of each resident. We provide daily offerings that reflect individual interests and needs.”
—Lisa Gluckstern