Following are brief stories about some of the most compassionate and accomplished caregivers in the profession: American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living annual award winners. They will be presented with their plaques at the AHCA/NCAL 66th Annual Convention & Expo this month.

Maryann Greco

Adult Volunteer of the Year
Maryann GrecoMaryann Greco is the 2015 AHCA/NCAL recipient of the Adult Volunteer of the Year award. Greco volunteers at the Allendale Community for Senior Living, Allendale, N.J.

Volunteers nominated for this award represent the crème de la crème of individuals who give freely of themselves for others. Yet Greco stands out among her peers even at this high level of volunteerism. Indeed, her recruitment of volunteers from the community is a great asset to the care center and, coupled with her intimate familiarity with residents, has already earned her accolades as a Volunteer Extraordinaire!

A hallmark of Greco’s three-year tenure at Allendale is her program called Growing Relationships and Making Memories, aka GRAMM. “GRAMM provides us with a steady flow of new volunteers,” said Activity Director Eucille Brown. “Through GRAMM, volunteers are assigned [to residents] to build relationships by sharing life stories, playing games, going for walks, just relaxing, or whatever it takes to bond,” she said.

For GRAMM to be effective, Greco coordinates closely with the care center and places ads in local newspapers for volunteers. She meets with prospective volunteers for an interview and then returns to Brown to discuss potential resident candidates and the best use of the volunteer’s talents.

The result has been extraordinary for the residents. “Maryann’s dedication to recruitment, training, and support for one-to-one visits has resulted in volunteers who are real advocates for Allendale residents,” said Administrator Kathy Manger.

When not in recruitment or training mode, Greco puts on a quintessential clown entertainment program, attends religious services, and is the busy bee of any social activities she attends. As one family member explained, “Maryann touches residents at many levels. It is an opportunity for residents to recall happy memories, experience pride in their accomplishments, and receive sympathy and understanding for their losses.”

So here’s a salute to Greco and her Merry Band of GRAMM volunteers.

Reilly Sasaki

Young Adult Volunteer of the Year
Reilly SasakiReilly Sasaki is the 2015 AHCA/NCAL recipient of the Young Adult Volunteer of the Year award. Sasaki volunteers at the Good Samaritan Society Village, Boise, Idaho.

In describing Sasaki, care center Administrator Brian Davidson said, “Whatever Reilly decides to do with his life, he will be a great success. Those that he serves will be greatly blessed.”

This sentiment is echoed by a group of 11 residents who cosigned a recommendation letter for Sasaki, saying, “It is not always easy to live in a nursing home, sometimes we feel alone, but Reilly always makes us feel loved and cared for.”

So what does he do to earn these accolades? Here’s a sampling: Dinner and Movie night, Tuesday Bingo, annual in-house fair, holiday decorating and parties, companion on visits to doctors’ offices, and a lot of one-on-one socializing.

Sasaki is a whirlwind of activity and recruits other students to volunteer at the care center. Speaking of school, at nearly a 4.0 GPA, he is in the top tier of students, and his goal is to be a medical doctor. He has completed two years of a rigorous college level sports medicine program that also requires a heavy commitment of extracurricular time.

How does he do it? Eagle High School counselor Lucas Younger explained that Sasaki “is very disciplined and has a great ability to manage multiple tasks to find great success.”

Yet, sprinkled throughout the high praise, a young man emerges who is also described as “kind,” “humble,” “personable,” “compassionate,” and “fun.” The list could fill a thesaurus of “Traits of Truly Remarkable People.”

As the residents said in recommending Sasaki, “He is a true example of what a volunteer in a long term care facility should be.” And AHCA/NCAL wholeheartedly agrees.

Beth JarrellBeth Jarrell

NCAL Administrator of the Year
With more than 25 years of experience in long term care, Beth Jarrell has set the standard for exemplary leadership. For the past 16 years, she has been executive director of Heritage at Dover Assisted Living, Genesis HealthCare, in Dover, Del., where she has created an environment of person-centered care, advocacy, and community involvement.
“She looks to changing systems rather than changing the resident and looks beyond the profession for resources that enhance individualized service,” said Vickie Cox, regional vice president of Genesis HealthCare, who nominated Jarrell for the award.

Jarrell introduced family-style dining to help better forge connections between staff and residents with dementia. Residents also maintain a vegetable garden and often supply home-grown ingredients for their meals.

A tireless advocate for the elderly, Jarrell has hosted local legislators at the community, so residents can meet with their elected officials.

Her commitment as a leader in the profession is evident by her participation on NCAL committees, her initiation of a group for marketing and admissions professionals, and her service as a mentor for new assisted living executive directors. Jarrell serves as an NCAL State Leader and on the NCAL Customer Relations Committee.

Jarrell has provided countless opportunities for residents to become involved within their local community. Heritage at Dover has many intergenerational programs, including a collaboration with the local art league and area youth to include artwork throughout the community. Additionally, the community hosts children’s dance classes and theater groups.

Residents also give back to the larger Dover community, such as making scarves for the local homeless shelter, holding food and book drives, providing Valentine’s Day gifts to survivors of domestic abuse, and hosting a fundraiser to benefit the music program at a local school.

Due to her leadership, Heritage at Dover Assisted Living enjoys impressive customer satisfaction and staff retention rates. In 2014, every single resident said they would recommend the community to others, and 75 percent of admissions to Heritage at Dover are due to word of mouth. “It is a testament to her ability to understand and engage her staff, residents, and family members,” said Cox.

The community is a Bronze level recipient of the AHCA/NCAL National Quality Award program, and Jarrell is actively leading her team to apply for the next level, Silver.

The NCAL Administrator of the Year award recognizes an assisted living administrator who demonstrates outstanding innovation, achievement, and capabilities.

Group Volunteer of the YearThe American Legion Auxiliary, Post 9

Group Volunteer of the Year
The American Legion Auxiliary (ALA), Post 9, is the 2015 AHCA/NCAL Group Volunteer of the Year. The group volunteers at the Maine Veterans Home, Machias, Maine.

ALA members, often in full uniform, often blanket the Veterans Home with arts and crafts sessions, a cooking club, social events like Bingo, homemade goodies, military-style ceremonies, and dance parties. Oh, and they self-recruit and screen volunteers who want to make a regular commitment to the care center or just want to help once in a while.

These volunteers have a unique understanding of the sacrifices made by veterans and the challenges they’ve faced in conflicts across the globe. ALA is a perfect fit for the care center’s mission of “Caring for those who served.”

Resident family member Rhoda Hodgdon calls ALA’s contribution to life at the care center “immense,” and Stephanie Lavigne, RN, resident care director, sees the group’s commitment as “hard to parallel. They give so much to the people we care for and about.”

It seems everybody in the nomination process mentioned the monthly birthday party and dance. ALA members dance to the music old soldiers and sailors remember, making them feel like they’ve been transported back in time to enjoy the Andrews Sisters, Glenn Miller, and other greats. Yet providers are aware that having fun in a care center takes work and planning, and ALA members handle those chores, too. Administrator Marcia Jackson, RN, said the group is creative and provides supervision during activities. “ALA members exemplify volunteerism and encourage community engagement with our veterans,” she said.

A time-honored event ALA is particularly adept at is participation in the annual Remembrance Day ceremony. The community comes together to celebrate the lives of veterans who passed during the year with poems and special recollections and reflections.


Not for Profit Program of the Year
Not for Profit of the YearCARC Inc. is the 2015 AHCA/NCAL recipient for the Not for Profit Program of the Year award for its community benefit program called the Work Services Program (WSP), which provides opportunities and support for people with special needs in finding employment in the Carlsbad, N.M., community.
In Carlsbad, if the local bank is happy, peace reigns. “The clients of CARC Inc. perform landscaping services for the bank under the direction of a coordinating supervisor, always performing in an above satisfactory manner,” said Executive Vice President of Carlsbad National Bank Chris Bird. Other supervised operations for the community include Rainbow Recycling, Document Destruction, running a country store, and landscaping.

And how about the pecan business? Yes, CARC Inc. has a large pecan farm run by clients. The harvest goes to the Pecos Valley Pecans processing plant, which also handles orders from across the United States for CARC pecans.
“The WSP identifies employment needs of the community and integrates its clients into that environment,” according to CARC Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mark Schinnerer.

“It’s a stepping stone for individuals to develop good work habits and learn social skills. The next career step is to advance to the Supported Employment Program, which provides greater autonomy and earning potential for clients.”
CARC board President Carolyn Olson acknowledges the WSP’s value to the community and businesses, yet for her, “The best part of the program is seeing the satisfaction of the clients when they receive their paychecks. Words cannot explain the pride and self-worth they gain from their employment.”

This award highlights a specific not-for-profit program that benefits the public and local community.

Alicia GoatleyAlicia Goatley

Noble Caregiver in Assisted Living
Alicia Goatley of Riverside Lodge Retirement Community in Grand Island, Neb., is described as the epitome of what it means to be a caregiver—“dedicated, calm, caring, compassionate, and respectful.”

As one of the community’s certified nurse assistants, she is always willing to go the extra mile. Every day, residents tell Riverside Lodge’s Executive Director Deb Friend how they appreciate Goatley’s attention to detail when it comes to their care.

“I truly believe her best quality is the infectious smile on her face no matter the circumstance,” said Friend, who nominated Goatley for the award. “Her warm, gentle, and caring smile always lights up the room.”

The 14-year veteran does her part to keep things festive. Goatley consistently dresses up for holidays and encourages other staff to do the same. Every year, she puts on an Easter bunny costume and delights residents and their grandchildren during the community’s annual Easter egg hunt.

Always generous with her time, Goatley often takes residents shopping, even during her time off, to ensure that they have the everyday supplies and personal items they need. She is a trusted confidant to residents and staff and is often seen giving residents hugs and words of encouragement.

For these reasons, Goatley was given the role of team leader for patient care assistance staff. She serves as an inspiration to other employees.
“You can’t help but be a better person just by being around Alicia,” Friend said.

Her compassion reaches beyond her residents. Goatley recently shaved her head and donated her hair to Locks of Love to offer support to a young boy in her community struggling with cancer. She also organizes the staff’s charitable efforts around Christmas time and encourages them to donate blood at area American Red Cross blood drives.

According to Friend, Goatley is a shining example of how employees live out Riverside Lodge’s mission to care for residents as though they were the most loved member of their own family.

The NCAL Noble Caregiver in Assisted Living award recognizes frontline caregivers, housekeeping, and maintenance staff or staff from any other department who have improved the quality of life for residents and created a better work environment for staff. 

Kara LarsenKara Larsen

Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (ID/DD) Hero of the Year
Kara Larsen is the 2015 AHCA/NCAL Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (ID/DD) Hero of the Year. Larsen works at the Mission at West Jordan Care Center, West Jordan, Utah. Over the years, West Jordan’s clients have changed from mainly behavioral to a medically fragile clientele. Eighty percent of residents are nonambulatory. The goal of West Jordan is to offer an individualized quality-of-life experience by providing excellent services and an advanced Eden Alternative environment.

There are “givers” and “takers” in this world. Larsen, a ParaQualified ID Professional and Relife Marketer and community director, is clearly the former. A solid 15-year veteran at West Jordan, her career began there when she was 17 years old. Today, Heather Miller, Larsen’s supervisor, describes her as “extraordinary in the love and caring she brings to West Jordan Care Center and clients.”

Kara has “solutions” to any activity situation; she thinks outside of the box, is creative and enthusiastic. She is adept at taking on an idea and following it through to completion, such as participating in the Miss Utah Wheelchair pageant, or leading other social events. A lot of the credit for the success Eden program goes to her, Miller says.

All of Larsen’s responsibilities pale in comparison to her raison d’etre—building relationships with clients, families, and staff. It seems that Larsen is always able to rally support for her causes and fundraisers, as well as providing community volunteers for events. The intended consequence is that she does a wonderful job at keeping the community active at West Jordan Care Center to such an extent that the community has become a great supporter of the center’s mission and its clients.

The Hero of the Year award recognizes an individual who works or volunteers in a group waiver home or an intermediate care facility for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

Neil Gulsvig

Not for Profit Trustee of the Year
Neil GulsvigNeil Gulsvig is the inaugural recipient of the AHCA/NCAL Not for Profit Trustee of the Year award. Gulsvig was most recently the board chair for The Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society and prior to that served on the board in various committee leadership roles for four years of his six years’ total service. Good Samaritan has more than 240 locations across the country and is the largest not-for-profit provider of senior care and services in the United States.

This award will recognize trustees who excel at being an effective board member. Key attributes include a strong commitment to faithfully carrying out the functions of the board and fostering effective board practices. A Trustee of the Year will demonstrate an unrivaled passion about the organization’s mission and a willingness to devote the time and energy necessary to be successful.

“As an organization, Good Samaritan has benefitted greatly from Neil’s expertise and leadership,” David Horazdovsky, Good Samaritan’s president and CEO said. “He has devoted his entire professional life and career to senior living and health care service, and Neil’s contributions to better the lives of seniors is known by his colleagues and friends across the nation.”

With 35 years as an innovator and leader in various capacities across the spectrum of long term care services, Gulsvig is perhaps best known for his years leading My InnerView. In 2005, he formed a joint effort with AHCA to promote and encourage the use of customer and staff satisfaction surveys at skilled nursing care centers. The same year, My InnerView published the first “National Survey of Consumer and Workforce Satisfaction in Nursing Homes,” which continued for several years.

“Neil is receiving this award for his outstanding dedication and years of service to the field of senior living and long term care,” noted Steve Chies, current chair of AHCA’s Not for Profit Council and past national chair of AHCA/NCAL. “His amazing commitment to and love for the mission and ministry of Good Samaritan is evident to all. The entire AHCA/NCAL membership of over 12,000 skilled nursing care and assisted living centers appreciates Neil’s unwavering service to fostering quality outcomes and improving the lives of frail and vulnerable individuals.”

Today, Gulsvig continues to help the long term care community transform how it provides services and supports and manages customers and employee feedback, as well as focusing on patient transitions.

Bonnie ZeilerBonnie Zeiler, LPN, CDP

Assisted Living Nurse of the Year

Bonnie Zeiler earned the nickname “Bonfire” because she brings passion and light to everything she does. As the program director of the memory care unit at The Village at Northrise—Homestead in Las Cruces, N.M., her passion is evident in the many initiatives and significant improvements she has spearheaded.

Most notable are her efforts to better care for those living with dementia. Through staff education, a focus on alternative strategies, and family involvement, she has helped nearly eliminate the community’s off-label use of antipsychotic medications.

Zeiler has devised many innovative ideas to focus on these residents, such as recruiting art students from the local high school to paint murals over The Village’s exit doors. The murals have significantly decreased exit-seeking behaviors among those in the memory care unit.

For family members of residents who struggle to feel a part of their loved ones’ lives, Zeiler also created activities that engage the two. One popular annual event is Rock and Bowl—a night of oldies and bowling.

A fellow staff member learned of Zeiler’s compassion firsthand after admitting her own mother.

“Bonnie taught me how to live in Mom’s world… how to accept, respect, understand, and love her again; even how to laugh and connect with her again,” the staff member said. “Her ability to inspire and lead others is nothing short of amazing.”

Another son of a resident wrote, “She is kind, considerate, and passionate about her residents. She went out of her way to make sure my mother was comfortable and peaceful during her final hours.”

Zeiler is committed to fighting Alzheimer’s disease as well. She has twice led her Walk to End Alzheimer’s team to raise the most money among the company’s more than 500 centers.

The NCAL Nurse of the Year award recognizes a licensed practical nurse or registered nurse who demonstrates outstanding compassion, supervisory success, and innovation.

Kathy Pietrocola and Jessica Vogel

National Assisted Living Week® Programming Award
In 2014, the theme for National Assisted Living Week was The Magic of Music. The national observance aimed to celebrate the role music plays in the daily lives of assisted living residents.

At The Chelsea at East Brunswick in New Jersey, staff saw the theme as a way to have residents “hit the road” and explore how local cultures and music are intertwined. Executive Director Kathy Pietrocola, Country Cottage Director Jessica Vogel, and their team took their residents on a journey for the ages. Residents virtually traveled throughout the United States in search of The Magic of Music.

The community started off the week by taking residents to Nashville, where country artist Chris Raymond shared his music and experiences with “Music City.” Residents kicked up their boots with a seated line dance cleverly named “sit in your saddle” fitness.

The next day, residents traveled to New Orleans to celebrate jazz music with a Mardi Gras parade. The community’s chef, Jason, whipped up a Taste of New Orleans, and residents tested their knowledge on Louisiana with some travelogue trivia.

Las Vegas proceeded, where residents enjoyed a Frank Sinatra impersonator and a trip to Chelsea’s casino (where everyone was a winner).

Subsequently, everyone headed on to Boston, where a local acapella group, The Spotswood Seniors, serenaded residents with classic love songs. The East Brunswick High School Musicians Club also offered a captivating showcase.

The last stop was the Big Apple. The sights and sounds of New York City echoed throughout the halls, allowing residents to reminisce with their favorite Broadway show tunes.

With each destination, The Chelsea at East Brunswick immersed residents and their friends and family into the unique culture of each city. Beignets in New Orleans, Yankee pot roast in Boston, and bourbon chicken in Nashville were just a few of the culinary delights residents enjoyed.

The community’s The Magic of Music programming not only exemplified what National Assisted Living Week represents, but also celebrated the extraordinary individuals who make The Chelsea at East Brunswick their home.

The NCAL National Assisted Living Week® Programming award recognizes an individual or community that demonstrates successful incorporation of the week’s theme into their activity plans, resulting in outstanding special activities and events for their residents, families, staff, and volunteers.