By Kent Mulkey

When you boil it all down, we all “do” the same things in senior living: dining, resident care, maintenance, business office, HR . . . and activities. Yes, activities are often last on the priority list, and go unseen and undervalued as a vital part of creating the lifeblood in the community. Trust me, I have asked a bunch of activities staff members. Sad.

The other day I spoke with one extraordinarily successful Activities Director (or Life Enrichment, Resident Engagement, or a host of other titles that might fit your situation). At her community, she leads a team of three full-time equivalent staff members who plan events, teach fitness, host parties, conduct 1-1 time with residents, hold concerts, etc.  Hmmm – she never mentioned bingo. Residents deserve far more than that, she said.

Keys to Success

Here are a few things she mentioned as keys to their huge success:

  1. The Executive Director is 100% behind her and anything she and her team want to try or do. In their culture, there are no limits and no failure, so they go for broke to engage and lift the spirits of the residents.
  2. They engage residents on an emotional level, not just giving them something to do pass the time. A shift they made with the COVID-19 restrictions was to pair up each resident with a staff member one on one who checks in with them twice a week. Sometimes they go for a walk when a staff member can engage the resident by listening to their life history. THIS is the heart and soul of resident care!
  3. They are committed to providing a wide variety of opportunities for residents to participate, which forces them, all of them, to do it as a team. They lean on each other, including staff from other departments. Every summer they host a luau that draws over 500 residents, families, and community guests. It takes an army to pull it off.
  4. They take activities to the residents. Some residents are simply not going to get out and attend an event. Perhaps they do not feel well, are used to being alone, or do not find interest in much that is on the calendar (which is hard to believe!). So, the staff walk around the halls with a cart of games, drinks, cards, and snacks to give out to residents in their apartments and take a few minutes just to talk with them.
  5. They smile at residents. A lot. It makes a huge difference.

Magic? Call it the vibe, the culture, the fun, the energy that happens when all the parts of the orchestra are in sync. Generally, it is your activities department that plays a key role in creating it.

Elevate their work. Value them for the contributions they make. Everyone will thank you.