By Sara Kyle

This week always makes me smile. A week where we celebrate activity professionals and all the amazing work they do day in and day out. 

Each year there is a tagline. But are we missing something much bigger when we make taglines about programming and activity offerings?

What if we looked at this week differently? Here are some thoughts.

1. Stories of Impact

Instead of using the stand-up meeting to talk about the listed activities of the day, what if there were a daily “Story of Impact?” 

  • What did you do yesterday in the world, and your role of engagement, that made life better, joyful, and fulfilling for a resident or family member?
  • What did you lead or facilitate that connected two or more residents?
  • What did you plan or arrange that brought smiles or laughter, or sparked curiosity?
  • Everyone can read the daily calendar and what is scheduled, but what transpires in those events and encounters?  

These stories are the heartbeat of the community and the reason engagement transforms lives and truly creates a palatable culture for all key stakeholders.

Tip: Stop talking about activities; start talking about impact!

2. Your Department Is a Revenue Generator

The offerings and programs you plan and execute are not just a mandatory and regulated line item in the budget. Your department is not a cost center! Your department is a revenue generator. How?

Residents who love where they live tell others, both inside and outside the community. If joy and fulfillment are abundant, you have more positive conversations than negative ones. Residents are influenced, renew leases, and accept annual increases because of connections, encounters, sentiment, and other residents’ opinions.

Your work enhances quality of life, extending the length of stay through movement, socialization, and cognitive function. Morning coffee on the activity calendar is not about people sitting down to have coffee. It is about the organic connection that is made and about motivating people to come out of their apartments and participate in community life.

Tip: Give a voice and platform to residents and families who love where they live! Use their words and video testimonials, and share them with your management team.

3. Occupancy Depends on You

You are more than a creative party planner who wears all sorts of hats on any given day. You are not a catch-all department, even when it feels like it. Don’t buy into that stereotype. You are an occupancy builder! If your department or programs went away, what would community life look like?

Sales and marketing teams may get people in the doors, but how those same people spend their days and time is what matters most. Anyone can move in. … Staying month after month is the true distinction of stabilized occupancy.

Your job, your program, your department is an occupancy builder. The more you know, the more power and respect you will garner. Don’t be scared or intimidated by the numbers. Tell your director and management team you want to be informed, and a part of the solution. You want to be more than someone who creates a monthly calendar! 

Tip: Ask about occupancy percentages daily! Know the numbers. Where are we in terms of goal occupancy versus actual occupancy? How can I influence this number?

4. Beyond the Calendar

Group programming and monthly calendars are not what you do, although it can feel like your entire job most days. Think of your standard programming calendar as 25% of community engagement. Adding more and more activities and events to the calendar to increase participation will only make you feel less effective. Why? Because you are not just a person to set up, tear down, move chairs, source supplies, and facilitate scheduled activities. There must be balance, and creating an environment of resident empowerment is critical for success.

Discover people’s passions and strengths, and call on them to lead. This doesn’t happen overnight and can take months, but it can happen. You have residents who want to lead and share their skills, but there has to be an opportunity and space in the daily schedule for this to happen.

This is not just residents, but staff as well. Don’t try to fit people into your scheduled calendar. Leave open space and time for them to determine how they can be a part of what you are leading.

Tip: Start a weekly offering of resident- and staff-led programming. Don’t be alarmed if the offering is empty for two to three weeks. That is not failure; that is planting the seed and letting it be watered while people determine what it is they can contribute.

Celebrating the Week … Then What?

We must absolutely celebrate the week and support and encourage this role in senior living. But we cannot stop there. This is a culture change. A shift in mindset and an attitude of how we value, communicate, and support the role of engagement in communities.

I can tell you, after 15 years of advocating for this role and department, it is not going to be an easy ride or quick fix, but I am telling you it will be worth it!

Here’s to the adventure that awaits, and we are not talking about programming or activities that you can schedule and lead! The adventure is so much bigger, and the ride is wild, but man is it worthwhile!