By Lola Rain

During Evolve 2021, a panel of judges read through peer-nominated stories of senior living professionals who went above and beyond over the last year to raise morale and keep residents and staff members safe. Three were chosen for their dedication and inspiration. Thank you to Nate Hamme of Ceca Foundation for providing the recognition platform, and Dr. Cynthia Green and Melissa Engle from Total Brain Health for sponsoring the cash award.


Suzanne Lipar, Fullness of Life Coordinator, Beaumont Commons 

Suzanne’s executive director describes her as someone who goes above and beyond for her residents. Especially when COVID-19 challenged all activity staff to shift community-oriented programs to individualized programs. She “comes and goes, always with a smile, always with a loving heart . . . She may be going to set up music for one person, to get the rosary for another person, deliver mail, deliver a package, set up a visit, or set up a telehealth visit. Suzanne took that responsibility on because of COVID,” praised her ED.

Suzanne also organized COVID-safe events like target shooting, hallway exercises, and a unicorn collage that was 6×8 feet tall and cut into 16 different pieces so residents could add their creativity to the communal art piece.

Suzanne will help with any task needed to be done, including saving a life. While she was passing out a meal tray, she heard a resident choking in their room and swiftly and confidently performed the Heimlich maneuver. Her quick thinking saved this resident’s life.

Suzanne is now forming a Kindness Committee. Because, after a year of stress and burnout, she and her community realized it is easier to let a negative comment slip out behind the mask. A poster with the kindness code will be on the wall. And when residents and staff are seen being kind to one another, they are going to get a wristband that has a Dalai Lama quote about being kind every day.

Achim Barrow, Senior Director of Dining Services at Army Resident Community in San Antonio Texas

Christine Willis, who nominated Achim, says, “We have heroes across the industry every single day, but when I think about the Texas Freeze it was quite honestly a life-or-death situation.” Even without power and running water, Achim was exceptional at leading his team. His number one priority was keeping the residents safe. They were working with no electricity in puddles of water from busted pipes. But Achim was able to create a sense of hope that everything would turn out ok, and it did.

Achim says, “I try to live every day to the best of my abilities . . . I have been to 7 NBA finals, I was at the US Open and PGA Golf, but none of those experiences gets even close to what I get to do here. You hear true war stories from heroes that were in WWI and II and you can make a difference in their life. I consider that a privilege.”

Jennifer Boonstra, Life Enrichment Director, Anthem Memory Care at Porter Place

Jennifer is the Life Enrichment Director at Porter Place Memory Care, which is an eighty-two bed memory care strictly for those suffering with dementia. Colleen, who nominated Jennifer, says “life engagement is a huge part of what we do every day. That engagement, that dignity, that respect, that ability to be successful, to feel that you are contributing to life is so important to our residents. And Jennifer has done an amazing job at that.” Jennifer was thinking outside the box when she pioneered a chicken program. Yes, feathery friends for the residents. Their community now has two chickens, Coke and Pepsi. They have leashes and halters so residents can hold them and feel that warmth when they weren’t able to see family or other loved ones.

Jennifer says, “A topic of conversation is hard sometimes with people in memory care. They don’t always know what to talk about so this has been the talk of the community.”

Figuring out what is going to work for over sixty people with varying grades of dementia is difficult. But she is able to engage everyone where they are. She organized a car parade to keep the families involved and show the residents love and attention when they couldn’t visit because of COVID-19. Colleen says, “Jennifer is a true leader in senior living on all levels of care . . . and she is most well-deserving of this award.”

When asked what motivates her, Jennifer responded, “What motivates me is giving my residents a sense of purpose. They are living here in a community and it’s not just about providing activities. It’s about joy, whether those are little moments of joy that last about one minute or giving them an opportunity to give back to where they live. I am motivated by seeing the smile on their faces.”

Honorable Mentions

Beth Bolyard, Executive Director at Randall Residence 

Beth is an inviting and enthusiastic leader. She keeps a bowl of candy on her desk so residents know they are welcome to stop in and say hi. Her co-worker Leslie says, “It is amazing to have a leader who wants to push us to be better.” When asked how she demonstrates leadership, Beth responded, “I will never ask you to do something that I won’t be willing to do myself . . . and I never like saying ‘I’m the boss.’ We do this together.”

Ian Johnstone, Regional Director of Operations, Morrison Living

Ian’s energy can shine its way through a Zoom camera. He is in it 110 percent all the time. Ian oversees 12 communities in Texas. Eight were without power for nearly a week during the Texas snowstorm. Four were completely without water, and by day two, all twelve were under “boil water” orders. In a simple twist of fate, the February storm impacted every community on his watch, because they all share one, independent power grid. That’s why for Texas, it was a disaster like none other. The best thing Ian could do for his communities was to be the communications hub. On the phone each day to their dining directors, their clients, and their sister sectors, he’d find the gaps and fill the needs. It was quite a dance to locate the resources in one place that were needed by another, but day by day he worked his way through it.

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