Penticton Care Worker Tells Her Story
Jean has three roles at the Village by the Station; a unique community operated by the Good Samaritan Society that offers seniors multiple levels of support and the opportunity to age in place. Jean is the recreational therapist for the residents in the assisted living, complex care, and dementia cottages. She is coordinator of Penticton’s only adult day program. She is also the coordinator of 140 volunteers that add to the vitality of their community.
Jean is very proud of the adult day program. They host up to 100 visitors per week who come to enjoy the social recreational programs. This stand-alone program is in the center of the facility and is open six days a week. People come to the program from the community for a variety of reasons. A high percentage of the participants have some form of dementia, short-term memory loss, or Alzheimer’s. Other participants are cognitively intact but with physical decline. The program is a social outing for the participants and a welcome respite day for their caregivers. The program is all about fun and laughter. “The focus is on what they have left, not what they have lost.”
Jean has been lucky enough to never have to advertise for volunteers at the GSS. She gets volunteers through word of mouth. “It’s the families telling their friends in the community about the wonderful place that their loved one lives. It’s staff members saying that they work in a great place! It’s the students who spread the word about all the things that are happening at Village by the Station. And people want to be a part of it.”
Very creative programming lands very different volunteers. Penticton was formally known Ironman City and cycling is an extremely popular pastime in this community. The Village by the Station was able to purchase two Duet bicycles with donated funds. These bicycles are extremely expensive; however they possess the functionality to allow virtually any resident to experience the joys of going for a bike ride. This program has attracted a whole different set of volunteers. Males in their 60’s and 70’s, who are cycling enthusiasts, now volunteer to come and take residents for a bike ride. The residents love to feel the wind in their face and feel a sense of freedom as they ride through their neighborhood.
Jean started her journey in 1986. As a child she knew she wanted to help people when she grew up. She completed a two-year diploma in social services. She was working with people with learning disabilities in the Vernon area when she saw an ad in the newspaper for a job working with seniors. She was attracted to applying for the position because of the wonderful relationship she had with her grandparents. As a result the idea of working with seniors had no stigmas or fears attached for her. Working with seniors has given her a 27-year career where she is shown love and gratitude every day. “At the end of my work day I can look back and know that I have truly made a difference! And I get paid for it – how could you ask for a better job than that?”
The most rewarding aspects of Jean’s work are “creating moments of joy.” Working with people with cognitive losses and physical decline can be very difficult. Having a good day is gone for many of them because they have pain and are upset by their losses and frailty. However, they can have wonderful moments of joy and Jean gets to be a part of that. What brings the residents the most joy? “Knowing that they are cared about. Physical touch and eye contact bring much reassurance to the residents. We want to produce programs that help the residents maintain a sense of self, a sense of purpose, and a belief that they still matter.”
The main challenge for Jean is time management. As she is drawn in many different directions during her workday she must constantly reminds herself “person before the task.” What is most important to focus on is the person sitting in front of you: the person who has come to your door because they are lonely or need help.
Jean feels blessed to be given the opportunity to work with a population of people who need to let someone into their life so they can manage it. As the residents can be so very vulnerable they are very appreciative of help. Jean is the recipient of their gratitude and receives hugs and thanks everyday. However, it is not like that everyday. There are days where it does not go well. The challenge for Jean is how to help them through a difficult time with dignity.
Jean avoids burnout and finds energy by working with a great team. They bounce ideas off of each other forming a creative think tank. “It’s about not doing the same thing every day. It’s about getting your mojo going!”
Jean believes that the Good Samaritan Society is different because it is a faith-based organization. The philosophy of care is based on Christian hospitality. However, you do not have to be a person of faith to live or work in the building. Policies are faith based: they are good Samaritans; they do not walk by when there are challenging health care needs; they lend a helping hand. Nine out of twelve of the recreational therapy staff has worked there since the facility opened nine years ago. Jean feels very valued by her supervisors and the organization as a whole. The staff receives kudos and thanks from management. This feeling that you are appreciated and that your hard work is noticed and appreciated makes you want to do the best work that you can. Feeling valued, rewarded and appreciated helps the staff to give quality care. The Good Samaritan Society recognizes the value of continuing education and works to provide their staff with in-services and guest speakers. This leads to opportunity for learning and growth, which provides the staff with a renewal of energy.
One of the biggest joys for Jean these days is teaching, mentoring, and sharing her experiences after 27 years in the business. She has found inspiration daily from the works of Nancy Lewthwaite, the author of Mental Aerobics. Nancy has worked for over 30 years in a variety of settings as both a physiotherapist and an occupational therapist. She became particularly interested in the area of cognitive stimulation. Her works are those to which Jean turns to for ideas and inspiration. Over the years, Jean has seen the role of a recreational therapist change. Nowadays there is greater focus on therapeutic care with specific goals, interventions, and outcomes. What has stayed the same is the responsibility for the resident’s physical, social, emotional, and spiritual well being.
It’s about not doing the same thing every day. It’s about getting your mojo going!
Jean has been blessed with a wonderfully supportive husband and children. She has learned to balance her work and home life by devoting herself 100% to each, but by leaving work behind when she walks out the door. Jean feels strongly that because she is a caregiver that she has to take care of herself. She loves the rural life and enjoys riding horses, hiking, swimming, skiing and cycling. She balances all this activity by eating chocolate! She is crazy about playing bridge; however it is hard to find people her own age to play with her. So not only does she work with old people; but every few Friday or Saturday nights she has to find little old ladies to play bridge with!
Jean’s rule to live by:
Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, (attributed)
– Written by freelance writer Cathy Szmaus for the Seniors Care HR Planning Committee. Funding for this project was provided by the Canada-British Columbia Labour Market Development Agreement