When I Was an Activities Director

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Someone was interested in my life experiences, a friend who has only known

me as a Bin Order Filler at Advance Auto.

A man had overheard my talking to a past nurse’s aide who had been there

at Arbors. He and his wife had worked one long hall every night together.

We would “loop them in,” for Activities trips, while they enjoyed the break

from their routines, they also were amused at our fishing trips, restaurant

“Lunches Out” and they came with us to see the Columbus Clippers.

I had written an article about my Activities experience for a church newsletter

years ago. I had updated it within a year and submitted it for a contest. This

may be of interest to some of you. I am wondering if anyone will comment

about my writing “voice.”

When I left babysitting behind, also substitute teaching, I had a friend,

Jane, from my church who worked in the business office of Arbors

Nursing Home at:Β  2270 Warrensburg Road, Delaware, Ohio 43015.

I met a lot of wonderful people during the period I worked there:

Fall, 1994 until Summer, 1999.

I took a series of Activities courses, which raised my pay at the time,

from $8.50 to $10.00.

Do I sound like I have the same way of writing as of this time period?

Do I have a more relaxed tone these days to my writing “voice?”

Once Upon a Time:

My Story about My

Experiences in the

Activities Department.

“There are times in the days of being a member of a nursing home activities

program where there is great joy and humor.

At those bright moments I could say I live a vision of excellence.

I enjoy engaging residents with reminiscing. This sometimes comes naturally

while we are in the ‘kitchen’ with Robin. We once a week gather a group of

men and women who are interested in eating what is made, along with the

processes of chopping, cutting, stirring and sauteeing foods. The memories

that our elderly friends focus in on are varied, from their favorite receipes

to what traditions their families engaged in while they joined together in a meal.

The stories are heartwarming and richly laced with humor, details and zest for

having an audience interested in really listening to them.

After the ‘good old day’ are re-lived while making homemade noodles or rolls,

all made ‘from scratch,’ I can live serendipitously in the past with them, part

of their family and new memories being made. An example of an activity some

teachers like to do with young students, as well as I did with the older folks I

came to love and adore, was to take simple ingredients to shake a mason

jar until they turned into butter. One man I remember said these simple but

poignant words:

“It never tasted better than when you churned butter knowing it came from

cows I had milked at dawn.”

Another gentleman ‘pitched in’ by adding the kitties dancing on their hind

legs, were his favorite part of milking his Jersey cows, since he could point

an udder and let a stream of fresh, warm milk go to the kitties. He added,

“Why their whiskers would be coated with creamy white milk, their tongues

a-licking and their little bodies shaking from excitement.”

There were also serious and sad moments where tears streamed down my

cheeks. Quiet moments where the older adult would put his or her hand in

mine. Sometimes the wish to ‘Leave this Earth’ would be spoken, with the

loved ones or Hospice worker close by. It was especially painful the first

year of working there, so many new and special people did not make it

to my second year.

It was so easy to get attached.

I was very careful to wear gloves while visiting with food, taking them off

to give human touch to someone.

Holding them (both in warm embraces and also, in our hearts) is part of

daily living for workers at our nursing home. To move someone from a

wheelchair into a seat on the bus, you lean forward, they put their hands

together weaving their fingers together, making a bond. Then, you use

your back and neck to help pull them forward out of their wheelchair and

you carefuly loop your arm around their neck, walking them side by side

down the aisle between seats on the Arbors bus. You pivot and help them

to get secured with a seat belt, once they are seated. It makes me smile

to think of the ones who are like little kids, asking if they can have the

much coveted ‘window seats?’

Living with high expectations of yourself, encompasses not only the highest

goals of fulfilling the job roles but also knowing which moments to slow down,

listen, comfort, cry and laugh out loud.

Sometimes there are ‘breakthrough’ moments where someone who was not

able to do much more than point, somehow will say a sentence.

Lean in, put your ear by their mouth, trust it will be precious, like you may

have heard a child’s first word.

Another will exclaim, unexpectedly while looking out the window,

“There’s a squirrel!”

“There’s a little girl pushing a baby carriage!”

Or, in a strange twist on this last one, seeing the baby carriage and

child– “I used to take my baby pig, Hermoine, on walks in a

perambulator!”

If you are like I was, you may need clarification for this old-fashioned

word for a baby carriage.

Nothing better than those endearing stories and breakthroughs. . .

A lady who had been through some dark days, time had passed

since she had been a ‘regular’ to our activities. When I had gone

past her room to announce, “Coffee, tea and doughnuts offered,”

she had turned her head. I went past the nurse to ask her if she

could swallow or did I need any thickening mix to bring with her?

I asked if she had a hair appointment, but they said if I wanted to

get some cash out at the front desk, Cinda would give her enough

for a ‘wash and set.’

We had a light classical radio station on, which brought some bits

of conversation about commercials. The woman who had been in

a ‘fog’ for weeks on end, looked around and said,

“This is the most beautiful room I have ever been in!”

Later, after tea, a half of a doughnut and some small strands of

conversation, her nicely set head was starting to droop. I told

Lori I was going to take Ethel back to her room. She came around

from the other side of the activities tables, where she had been

‘doing manicures,’ to give Ethel a hug. Ethel called her who I believe

to be her daughter. Lori ‘rolled with it,’ saying, “I love you, Mom! See

you next week.”

WhenΒ  I took her down the hall to her room, I sang my usual song,

“My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.” It is a calming and familiar song,

which helps to notify them of a transition back to their rooms, if they

had been around me for awhile.

As I saw her door approaching, I said in a singsong voice,

“Home again, home again, lickety split.”

Ethel nodded.

When I got inside the room, I put her wheelchair facing the television,

bent down to give her a hug.

She patted the side of my cheek, she looked into my eyes and

said the sweetest whisper of a “Thank you.”

Her bright shining eyes with the light inside on, would have been

enough gratitude for me.

Nursing home residents become more than people to take care of,

they become friends.”

Robin Oldrieve Cochran, July 8, 1999.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I received a Surprise going away party on this day. I was given a

beautiful large rectangular cake with a train on it, it had blocks of

“A, B, C.” There was a clown on the caboose and a conductor

who reminded me of Mr. Greenjean’s from Captain Kangaroo.

The cake read: “We Will Miss You, Robin!

Please Come Back, Riding the Crazy Train

Back to Arbors.”Β  😦

I became a teacher again, with preschool classes with integrated

enrollment. Children diagnosed by a team, during each summer,

completing tests and task, then a meeting with parents to develop

a plan of action called an I.F.S.P. Later, when they were older, an

exit test and set of tasks were carried out, to determine if there were

still needs to be met. Anything from psychological, emotional, motor

(gross motor and fine motor), language, daily living skills and goals

were set for each child who needed them. If the child was on the

border of needing or qualifying for school, we would suggest they

attend as a ‘mentor’ or ‘typically developing peer group member.’

We had a total of 12 students, comprised of 8 Special Needs and

4 Typically Developing.

*************************************************************************************

I urge parents of children who don’t see their grandparents

often, to take them in and ask for a Calendar of Events.

Choose something your child enjoys, maybe it is cooking,

singing or listening to music, or coming over to a nursing

home during Exercise Time. (We called it Motion Time.)

I also liked when we had pen pals from classrooms at

school. I would read the letters to the more cognitive

and aware patients, then would write a return letter back

to the children. It was great with 3rd or 4th grade, and we

would invite them to meet at the beginning of school,

and thenΒ  again at the end of school, our facility would

give them a picnic. This was a very popular activity, which

led me back to teaching when a nurse from our home was

going up to Morrow County to Whetstone River Family and

Children’s Center. (WRFCC.)

***************************************************************************

Here are the special names of ones my family and I loved:

Bernie, whose daughter in law was Suzy at the Columbus Zoo.

Daisy, who bonded with my oldest daughter and talked with

her about her grandmother who had a flower name, (My Mom

who is also known as “Rose.”)

Charles, who my youngest daughter would push his heavy

body in a wheelchair which seemed to have no ability to

move forward, rubber wheels were worn. He told her she was

the, “Prettiest little thing I have ever seen. Those puppy dog

eyes will get you anything you want. . . within reason!”

My son liked to go down to the rehabilitation area, where he

‘took’ to a man who had had a serious motorcycle crash.

This man looked ‘rough around the edges, with a multitude

of tattoos, one completely nude woman, included. His name

was Chris, he and Jamie would talk about his favorite subject,

football. They also would scan pages in Jamie’s Guinness Book

of World Records. Jamie would go down two long halls to go

‘fetch Chris a sweet roll and coffee with cream and sugar in

it from the closed dining room.’

Chris recuperated after 6 long months in a body cast.Chris

brought a lot of hearts fluttering and excitement when he finally

wanted to come down to Wednesday Night Bingo. Jamie would

get two cards for himself, since the prizes were a quarter for

every 5 in a row, “Bingo!” and a whole dollar for the complete

card filled out. Chris and Jamie would be joking the whole time,

which did disturb the ladies who really concentrated and liked

it quiet! Most Bingo games at nursing homes are happy to have

guests, since it brings a feeling or air of expectancy to the night.

We always served treats and beverages, to also get more people

involved.

Last but not least, most places have Halloween Trick or Treat

nights, Easter Egg Hunts and Christmas Parties, where guests

are encouraged, especially since little ones bring smiles and

more fun reactions.

Have you tried this with your children or grandchildren yet?

Any other philanthropic projects which you and the kids do?

Postscript: Don’t forget to tell me about my past writing compared

to my ‘present’ style.

Also, I am heading to Cleveland to spend time with my Mom,

after we finish a half day of work on Friday. I will check using

my super-sensitive cell phone and also, try to read and respond

to posts. See you after July 5th for a post about all of Mom’s and

my adventures. The huge thrift store on Lorain Road in North

Olmsted, meals out, unexpected silly comments will be noted and

reported, while spending my summer week’s vacation with Mom:

“Priceless!”

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About reocochran

I am experiencing crazy and hapless adventures in dating that may interest people over fifty. I am now approaching 62 later this year and enjoy taking photographs, incorporating stories or poetry on my blog. I have many old posts which are informative and written like essays. I have several love stories collected from family and friends. Even strangers spill their stories, since I am a grown version of the girl next door. I have been trying to live a healthy lifestyle with better food selections and active hiking and walking. I have written four children's books and illustrated them. They are not published but a battered women's shelter used one about neglect and abuse for their children's program and a 4H group used my "Kissing a Bunny is like saying a Prayer" as a coloring book. Please comment or respond so I may get a chance to know you. Sincerely, Robin

47 responses »

    • I do believe in having pets visit residents in retirement homes. I had a veterinarian I pursued to get her patient labrador retriever come visit with her. I emphasized it as ‘therapy,’ which she then started billing our activities department, which we had a budget for this. It was a “Win-Win” situation. All the people would come down to the Activities room that could, whil eI had 2 volunteers and an assistant to help me gather people. I had a guinea pig, I would wrap it in a little baby blanket. So many people loved her, we had a boy guinea pig (black) named Pepper but Salt, mainly white, who was less likely to wriggle or scratch people. Wrapping her up, she did look cute! Smiles for your great adventure in volunteering. I bet you could write some stories for us to read. . . πŸ™‚

    • Thank you for mentioning this! I like how you put this.You have stories to share with us on your posts, we like to hear about elderly and children, too. It is probably the two most popular subjects. When I write about my grandkids, since I don’t have pets (anymore) they get a lot more attention! πŸ™‚

  1. That is a great idea for young children. the interaction with older people is something that a lot of them miss these days and I think it adds something special as they grow up.

    • Sometimes grandparents are far away or not living, sadly. I have encouraged my own children to take the ‘grandies’ especially to the Trick or Treat night, since their costumes and energy brings so much fun into the place I used to work. I generally, the past 3 Halloween’s, have been at my Mom’s house. She turns 87 on November 1st so I have already put in my vacation time for this. I am heading,as a matter of fact, now on my first week of vacation. We are urged to do (schedule) this in January, so I chose the week leading up to the Fourth.
      If I am not around much, it is because they only have one computer in their building open to residents. There is a Solitaire woman and a email Man who ‘hog’ the computer. I can sneak down after Mom goes to nap in afernoon, sometimes catching it open. I ran out of my ‘data’ again, Dan. I need to figure this out with my youngest daughter. She had me turn my mobile data off today until July 9th. . . Maybe the library up in Cleveland I will visit and use their computer. πŸ™‚

  2. i love the mix of young and old, so good for both groups. i love finding out more about your time there and it sounds like you were a.perfect fit. they were so lucky to have you, someone who truly enjoyed them and brought so much to their lives. p.s. in response to your question – i think that your current writing style does seem more relaxed, i think we all grow as writers over time, as we find our real voices –

    • Beth, I read this paper I had written and felt like it almost sounded like high school. I tried to update it but really just thought, oh heck, I will let them read my ‘old’ way of writing. I also think you take your grandies to places where there are a wide variety of ages. I like that the kids learn about older folks, while the elderly so enjoy seeing children. They just glow with the transference of energy back and forth. Smiles and off to Mom’s for a week. Hopefully, will beat the Solitaire woman or the Email Man to the computer. They used to have three, but one got a virus, shut down and not replaced and another one moved to the other part of the building…. Hope you have a wonderful weekend, Beth! (Does your new friend love the kids? I bet he adores them, how could he not?) πŸ™‚

  3. Wow, you’ve certainly covered the spectrum, caring for both the old and the young. I definitely notice a more prosey style to your blog as compared to the article you wrote, but I suppose that makes sense. Have fun on your trip! See you when you get back!

    • I will pop in using a computer but I wrote a long explanation to Dan, I ran out of my data and have to turn my mobiile data off until July 9th. Yikes! Maybe make it to the Westlake library or beat the Solitaire woman to the computer in the place they call the Pub. It is a cool place, with large screen t.v., tables for cards and Poker, along with an actual pool table. They sell to guests, wine for $3 and beer for $2. Mom will be excited and we shall have some adventures to report. Thanks for your answering about my style. I felt the original which I did minor changes, editing out more details, was like high school writing. πŸ™‚ Have a wonderful weekend, Marissa.

      • It was definitely a bit more factual which makes it hard to really show the kind of style that comes with maturity, but I enjoyed it all the same. Enjoy your trip! Sounds like it’s gonna be fun!

      • Thsnks for your thoughts, Marissa.I like to hear about writing and it helps to get feedback from those I respect. Especially from friends like you who have practiced or “honed” their craft of writing, Marissa.
        Hope you have a fantastic Fourth!

  4. I’ve never had time in my life to volunteer:( You are an incredible soul for doing that! Have fun!

    • I was so blessed to have this job, met a lot of wonderful and diverse people there. Once I went to special ed preschool though, it was a ‘walk in the park.’ I had to write over 200 Care Plans, since we had that many residents who lived there, go to Quarterly Care Plan Meetings and talk to families who wanted me to include more than we already were stretched to do. They need better pay and more employees in this area, Juan. It is important for them to get socialization and we had a rotating schedule for our trips to be fair. Smiles and hope you get to see the grandson, enjoy some of your weekend. I know you work hard, Juan!

  5. Robin, there are many similarities indeed to working with the young and old. I admire your ability to do the latter. I want to, but am afraid to lose any of them. I am an Empath and become attached to people very easily. When I worked with handicapped children years back, I couldn’t leave it when I left them and so concluded that I should not do it at all. I admire you for being able to be so sensitive to them without it overly affecting your own life.

    Have a lovely time with your mom and yes, I hear your current voice in your earlier voice. Same Robin, thank heaven! A very loving, kind soul and the best blogging friend ever.

    Hugs to you and your mom from me! ❀

    • Beth, I was unable to answer these very personal and caring comments so I honestly “skipped” over to my July post comments. I was overwhelmed with emotions. I thought my memories were securely held and was not expecting such old feelings to come flooding back.
      I understand you are an empathetic person, an Empath. I see and feel this about you. I may have read this through some of your paths you have taken and how you moved from different teaching situations. I remember how teenaged mothers were ones you helped. You shared your soul with these girls and how you reached them. I imagine the experiences with children with disabilities would tear you up inside, Beth.
      I embrace this warmth and love, Beth. So glad you like the younger me and see the older me as the same person. This was sweet and I feel this way about you and how we are friends. β™‘ Thank you.

  6. I have some experience working with both young and old. More recently, I was a site manager for a senior living home, and that is a much different role than the activities director, who gets to have so much more fun. The activities you described sound creative and your interactions were so heartfelt that I can see why you were popular.

    As for you writing style, I can see more similarities than differences between then and now. You still write from the heart. There is some evidence your style now reflects a comfortable familiarity with your audience since you seem confident in knowing your readers love your stories and also care about you, or as the saying goes — ‘To know you is to love you.’ – Mike

    • Mike, as always when you write a comment I discover another facet of your giving life. Your sense of community shines in your volunteer work at school, helping scouts in the past, working in a variety of professional settings and spreading a better, more caring image of Americans around the world as an “ex-pat.” I bet you have some interesting stories about your on site position at a senior living home. Thanks for the big compliment, Mike. I received more in so many ways than what I gave. Happy holiday weekend. πŸ™‚

  7. You have a great heart Robin πŸ™‚ It breaks my heart to see how lonely some of our elders are, even in retirement homes. One of the best initiatives I was made aware of recently was how a retirement home (in the US) was connecting seniors who had no family members to teenagers in non-english speaking countries via the internet. The idea behind this program was to have the seniors help teach English to these teenagers and it was a marvellous sight to behold. These seniors have now found new meaning and purpose for their lives…

    • I love new and innovative ideas, Yolanda! This program is wonderful on so many levels. Elderly need practice in using their minds and learning new technology would be so useful. Then, getting to know people from another stage in life, teaching them language, would benefit the younger participants. This mutual beneficial program should be publicized more. Variations could be implemented. Thank you for your nice comments and great suggestion!

  8. I love your writing, before and after (young and a bit later..?) πŸ™‚ Beautiful declarations of love for the elderly and how important it is for us to hear their stories. Bringing a dog or a young child is an excellent way to bring joy into their lives, also. And I agree with your other readers – we must encourage our children to spend time with elders – so much to learn, and so much lost if we don’t listen.

    • In 1994, I was 39 and so a younger and less practiced writer. I think as I approach 60 it would be nice to become comfortable in my own skin. Also, hoping to sound mature (not yet “wise,”) in my writing.
      I certainly received more than I gave. I hope to be helpful in whatever position I am in, wherever I land. Yes, let’s encourage intergenerational contacts, sharing and learning from each other! πŸ™‚

    • I am thankful for the time to become better at this position. The administration helped by supporting any new ideas and programs. It was a blessing to my life, Colleen.

  9. Thank you for sharing those beautiful memory’s from your past in the Nursing homes Robin, you are obviously a dedicated and caring person, to develop a beautiful rapport with the elderly they way you did, is Nursing at its best. Only a caring and loving Heart could have those attributes.

    • Wow, Ian. You really gave me such wonderful compliments. I just wanted their lives to be better than before I arrived. It took awhile before I got the “hang” of this position. Honestly.
      Thank you for such kind words. I am a little teary-eyed now. Hope this coming weekend is full of Aussie adventures and romance with your dear love.β™‘

    • Hi Brenda! There have been wonderful moments and memories in every place I worked. I felt like I really made a determined effort to meet more of the elderly’s needs each month I continued there.
      Good to know how my writing style sounds. I think conversational sounds nice. I will hope this is a good thing πŸ™‚ Thank you. Happy upcoming holiday, Brenda!

  10. Crux:
    Living with high expectations of yourself, encompasses not only the highest goals of fulfilling the job roles but also knowing which moments to slow down, listen, comfort, cry and laugh out loud.
    Amen.

      • I think I improved on the ways to really listen and respond to people in this position, Bela. I appreciate how your responses are intuitive and caring. Hugs, Robin

    • I am so glad you shared the meaningful way you worked with children and respect your position as an aide. I am sure you and the teacher worked as a team and she felt you made a difference in the quality of your classroom.

  11. Reading your “paper” makes me even more proud of you, Robin, if that’s possible. My smart friend with a heart as big as Ohio teaching elders and smallees. Indeed. About your writing style: Of course I see you in every thought. But I also can envision that you approached this article formally, much like a student tackling a major term paper in college, because you’d yet to pick up the comfort level that comes with blogging frequently. It’s your voice, though, front to back.

    I hope you and Mom had a great stay. Today is the Fourth. Happy Holiday! Have a safe trip back tomorrow and see you in BloggyVille soon. ❀

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