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Bananas
Kathy Hughes, ADC

I spent many wonderful summers playing in my grandparents’ home. I would spend lazy summer days going through all the nooks and crannies of the attic and the many rooms that held antiques and china cups. The one thing that I loved to do the most was to craft with my grandmother and to go on errand with my grandfather to collect green stamps. I would spend the rainy days gluing the stamps into the books and then go “shopping” for new things.

The most exciting trip was always to visit my Aunt Anna at the nursing home an hour away from home. I delighted in visiting and playing Bingo with her. At each visit she would give me the banana that she had won. The facility always fascinated me with the shiny halls, the lovely rooms and sitting on the front porch with her. She had so many stories to tell about her friends and her life. I was thrilled to be able to move closer to her and be able to visit regularly. She was a very special person, who taught me that you could do anything if you put your mind to it. Sadly a year later, at age 100, she was on an outing where she was bowling and fell. She had broken her hip, and in the early 70’s she was not able to recover. She never lost her sense of adventure and was able to leave me with that legacy.

I continued to volunteer at that nursing home and spent my summers going on outings, calling Bingo, helping with activities. I enjoyed every minute of visiting with the folks and would go at least 4 days a week to help out. That is why my 30+ years in activities was so special. Every day was an adventure and each day I wanted to make at least one person’s day. I would give out bananas once a month at Bingo just as a remembrance of my aunt. No one ever knew why, but I was able to remember the person who encouraged me to become an Activity Professional.

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An “Old Soul”
Melanie Evans, ADC/MC

My journey to the “activity world” started some 20 years ago, even though initially, like many others I had no clue Activity Professionals even existed. I started in a long term care facility as a CNA. I knew as soon as I met my first resident, I had found the people I wanted to work with throughout my life. Even as a young child, I had often heard my relatives say I had an “old soul.” I just never knew that label would play such a big part of where my path would lead. I remember going to work each day and rushing to get through the daily tasks that I was assigned so that I could have those valuable moments to spend listening to the stories that were shared by my residents. I loved how they would light up when we exited their rooms with that extra bit of polish and someone would complement them on their look. Then it happened…the Activity Director at my facility announced she would be teaching the course right there. I wouldn’t even have to leave my comfort zone! I completed the course and loved learning all the “behind the scenes” information that I had never seen that goes into activities. After completing the course, I found an assistant position at a facility and began shortly thereafter. Although I had always loved WHERE I worked, this new opportunity opened my eyes to what I now know was my absolute true calling! I loved going to work each day and can honestly remember feeling excited about each new day. That’s a feeling that still remains. The faces and even interests have changed greatly but one thing remains…I LOVE what I do. I love the stories that are shared, the smiles that brighten each day, the bonds that are formed, and the genuine love that is expressed, often without the use of any words. Being an Activity Professional is a true blessing to me and I am forever grateful for the path that lead me to this amazing career!

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Why I became an Activity Professional?
Becki Sims,ADC/MC/EDU, CDP

Walk to End Alzheimer’s Chair, Williamsburg
About 18 years ago, through High School, I would visit a nursing home (usually during the holidays) and my group would make favors (goodie bags) for all the seniors living at the home. I found out by doing this it was important to me. After High School, I went to college and ended up getting a job working with special needs children. This was a delight and in many ways helps me with where I am today. One of the substitute drivers told me that his wife works at an Assisted Living Community and they were hiring for an Activity Assistant. He told me I would be perfect for the job. So, I went in to fill out an application and was hired immediately. I loved it and still do!!! I was put in the Director position before my 90 probation period was over. From that point on, I did everything I could to become the BEST at being an Activity Professional. I started working with the Alzheimer’s Association and did local networking. I found out about NCCAP through that networking. In 2007, I moved from Richmond to Newport News after being hired by Riverside Health System. It was 1 year after that move that I became NCCAP certified. I am proud to be considered part of an elite group of men and women who strive to make our presence known in the health care system.

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“What’s New?”
by Debbie Hommel, ACC/MC/EDU, CTRS

Everybody has their story as to how they ended up in activities. Here is mine.
I answered an ad to be a “Friendly Visitor” when I was a senior in high school. I saw the ad in the high school guidance office and the guidance counselor suggested volunteering in a nursing home would “look good” on my college applications. It was 1973 and the Viet Nam war had just ended and Richard Nixon was dealing with Watergate. Like many other 17 year olds at that time, I was trying to figure out where I belonged. I thought I would give the nursing home a try.

I was accepted into the “friendly visitor” program and was assigned an elderly lady named Miss Carrie. She was blind and I could always find her sitting at the end of the hall, outside her door, in the sun of the window. She told me she loved the warmth of the sun because she was always cold. I visited faithfully every week. Miss Carrie did not say much, even when I prodded her with questions. She seemed more interested in my life as a high school senior. We talked about everything – boys, marriage, going to college and even sex. She provided some interesting insight and honest advice which to this day, I still remember.

On my way to see Miss Carrie every day, I would pass through the lobby. In the lobby sat two male residents. They were younger residents, in their twenties. As you would suspect, the two gentlemen sat up a bit straighter when I would dash through the lobby. I would send a quick wave and head down to Miss Carrie’s room. One day, as I was heading down Miss Carrie’s hallway – one of the gentlemen shouted out “What’s New?” I paused and walked over to them. Not sure what to say, I responded “New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire”. It broke the ice; we all laughed and introduced ourselves. Jimmy had cerebral palsy and Henry had hydrocephalus. Both were confined to wheelchairs and verbally hard to understand but they were typical young men in spirit. Now, with every visit, I stopped in the lobby after one of them would shout out as I arrived “what’s new?” I always had a new response of towns/place that began with “New”. I would look up locations in the atlas in the high school library before my visit to the nursing home, looking for towns with the start of “New” in their names.

One day I arrived to the nursing home and the Social Director called me into her office as I was chatting with the boys, as I had started to call them. My first thought was I was in trouble for spending too much time with residents who were not my “assigned” visits. As I sat down in her office, she quickly said she needed to re-assign me a new person as Miss Carrie had passed away. She asked me if I had any suggestions for who I would like to visit. I sat there in stunned silence as I was trying to process the quick, matter of fact way that the Social Director had informed me that lovely Miss Carrie had died. My eyes were welling up and the Social Director looked at me and said “What did you expect to happen? Everyone here is old and they don’t live very long – it’s to be expected.” I remember saying – “not everyone is old – what about Jimmy and Henry?” The social director thought for a moment and said “why don’t you visit with them, they seem to have taken a liking to you.”

I continued to visit the remainder of my senior year of high school. Visiting “the boys” was a bit different than visiting with Miss Carrie, but fun all the same. We always started our visits with the “what’s new” greeting and I never let the boys down as I would come up with new places every week. One of the favorite things to do when I visited would be to take them for a walk around the building. I think part of it was they didn’t get outside much and another part was I could only take one of them at a time. We didn’t talk much about my leaving for college. I was doing something that neither of them had the opportunity to do nor would ever be able to do, considering the times.

But the time came and I did leave. I wrote to them a few times but never got a response. They did not have the ability to write and the Social Director was not one to help them. I did visit at Thanksgiving but it felt awkward as if they were angry with me for leaving them and living my life. Soon after, my Dad passed away and my life was turned upside down and I didn’t think of Jimmy or Henry very often. I finally graduated with a degree in Art and was home looking for a job. The first job I saw was for an Activity Assistant in that same nursing home. I immediately thought of Jimmy and Henry, wondering if they were still there. How could they be – it had been four years.

I arrived for the interview and couldn’t stop thinking of Jimmy and Henry – would they be sitting in their spot in the lobby. As I walked up the driveway, I could see two shadows in the same spot of the lobby where they sat. Sure enough, there they were – sitting as when I left them four years earlier. I stood in the entrance of the lobby, looking over at them. They looked at me and I wondered if they remembered me. Henry shouted out “What’s new?” I walked over and said “New Jersey, New York, New Hampshire”. Jimmy shook his head and said “four years of college and that is the best you got”. We all laughed and I knew I had found my way back home.

I got the job as an assistant and within a year, the director left and I was promoted to director. To Jimmy and Henry, I was always that seventeen year old girl and they teased me relentlessly when I was promoted. They kept me grounded and focused on what was important. Sadly, Henry passed away at the age of 29 due to complications from an infection. I know we are supposed to remain professional and not develop personal relationships with our residents. Occasionally one must make an exception. Jimmy and I were friends. I brought him to my house for Thanksgiving dinner, he met my family, he attended my wedding and we continued those walks around the building as often as I could (at least 2-3 times a week). Jimmy and Henry taught me some important life lessons. They taught me to be grateful for what opportunities I had and to not complain as it could always be worse. They taught me to appreciate the little things in life, like taking a walk outside and enjoying whatever weather might be upon us that day.

I resigned as director after I had my son. At the same time, Jimmy was leaving to go to a group home. The social worker had found him a less restrictive setting with other younger adults. This time when we both left, it was for a new path in life. This time when I wrote to Jimmy, he would write back. It would only be a line or two but someone at his home helped in the process. We kept in touch till Jimmy passed away in his 50’s. To this day, when I hear the greeting “what’s new?” – I smile and think of “the boys’.

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Bryan Rife, ADC

I will never forget the first day I stepped foot in the skilled nursing facility for my job as a nursing assistant. I was scared and nervous, yet, was excited as well. Even though I enjoyed give hands on care to the patients I was always intrigued by the employee they called the “Activity Director.” I could hear her making the announcements each hour each day and would try to be the team player and take all my patients to participate. My assignment stayed empty because I would take all my residents to “have fun!”

After several years of trying to find my calling there-going from a CNA, Restorative Aide, Rehabilitation Technician, and a Bookkeeper-and during all that time I had been helping out when I could and on my breaks and days off-I started noticing where my passion/calling was leading me. One of the Activity Assistants positions came open and I applied and got the job. I had never been so excited about anything! I had the best mentors in the world..always teaching me and explaining why we do what we do. I completely fell in love with the Activity Profession.

It wasnt until 2012 I decided that being the “assistant” was not enough-I wanted to run the show! So I became an Activity Director and began to pursue National Certification through NCCAP. I will never-EVER-forget the day I got “the button!” Having Cindy Bradshaw present that button meant more than the world to me. I truly believe that the best profession in healthcare is the Activity Profession and the icing on that cake is to be Nationally Certified through NCCAP.

Through the activity profession I have had met so many people and have acquired “extended” family members. Through this profession I met one of my very best friends, Melanie Evans. I am honored and consider it a privilege to have made friends with so many other activity professionals!

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Why I became an Activity Professional
Dawn Worsley ADC/MC/EDU

I have to be honest as I started my healthcare career I never gave activities a second thought. I spent my first 5 years gaining clinical knowledge while pursuing nursing home administrator. You know the saying people are placed in your life for a reason well I believe that is true. Through a series of events I had the honor of working for two women who were instrumental in molding me and guiding me to the activity professional. Donna Leister was my administrator and Dee Smith was my DON 20 + years ago. It took these two women to leave the company where we worked together and move to another company and one phone call for me to find my passion Activities. Back then, I thought ok getting paid to play games and throw parties that sound great to me. Little did I know that this job was so much more. Donna and Dee connected me with my professional mentor Charlotte Reynolds ADC in Maryland who guided me through certification and really showed me what I should aspire to be for her I am grateful.

I can not imagine doing anything else. Activities to me has so may title and we were so many hats. I can go from empowering young residents to advocate and make a difference to gracefully and peacefully help i make a dying residents last days on this earth as wonderful as possible. It doesn’t hurt when you work for a company who places so much value on Activity Professionals and Quality of life such as FutureCare Health and Management.

I enjoy being able to share my passion of Activities with other professionals assisting them with certification into the profession. I am blessed to part of the hardest working board known the NCCAP Board and to work with visionaries such as Cindy Bradshaw.

As we watch our profession grow and follow the journey of healthcare delivery changes in the United States I am amazed that we have only touched a small percentage of professionals who “do” activities. NCCAP’s newest Home Care Certification now bring knowledge and skillset to the millions of people in home care , home health and the families who provide services to people living in the home.

Our profession changes lives improves the quality for life for both the people we serve but also the people who serve for that reason I can scream from the rooftops that I am a proud NCCAP certified Activity Professional and I MAKE A DIFFERENCE .

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Tammy Peters

Why I became an Activity Professional. Though out my life I can never remember a time when I didn’t love the elderly. Most children are afraid of nursing facilities, but not me I always looked forward to when my church would go to visit. The number one goal I have set for myself in life is to make a difference in someone else’s well-being. It is in a loving touch, kind word, song, craft or just that one moment that you connect with someone with just a simple smile. Having the opportunity to sit and listen to stories of an elder’s life as they relive their lives by telling stories of their childhood, and home. Sitting at someone’s bedside and holding their hand as they make their journey home. At the end of the day, having received true unconditional love. For me my becoming an Activity Professional was not chosen by me but rather for me by God. If you love what you do and oh how I did, work is never a job but a shared moment in time with those you love. Enjoy today and love every elder you have as if they were your own family.

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Bonnie Ruggles-Ruechel , ACC

I was working as a sub teacher and saw an ad for an activity director position and thought why not answer the ad. I got an interview and got the job. I had a two day training with an activity director working in their sister facility. The first week on the job my NHA bought a letter in to me and it was a letter about starting a state Activity Association, he said go check this out, I did and the start of WI Representatives of Activity Professionals (WRAP) began and I offered to take a position on the board. Soon after, my NHA came with another letter, going to start a national association and so I got involved with that. Next was NCCAP, and I got certified and became a consultant. I believe in our profession and as long as the Lord wants me to, I will keep singing the praises of activity professionals you are great and the people you take care of believe in you. Bill and I are finding this out, especially with him in a skilled rehab facility and the activity director certified by NCCAP. She was one of my first students in AZ. taking the MEPAP courses (called Basic and Advanced Management Courses). God Bless the Activity Professionals.

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Linda McNeal-White, ACC

I believe that for me this is a calling and that God was preparing me for this occupation many years ago. The first place I can remember living was on my grandfather’s farm. I would walk down the sidewalk to my grandpa’s every day. My step grandmother had polio and was confined to a wheelchair. It was a very large wooden wheelchair. I did not have a fear of wheelchairs because I had been around her and watched her using it. My grandfather died and we moved. Where we moved to was a house between to elderly couples. One on either side of us for neighbors. I would go every afternoon to visit them. There were no children for me to play with. I would visit with them and listen to their stories. My father was a minister and I remember going with him as a child to the nursing home which was nothing more than a big house that someone had decided to take in some elderly people and take care of them. I still remember the smells that were there. Then as I became a teenager I would go with my father and play the piano for him when he went to the nursing home to have church. The residents would love to sing. I continued to volunteer at a nursing home as I became older. I would go to the nursing home and do crafts with the residents. One day the Activity Director ask me if I would be interested in a part time position. I said yes. That was the turning point for me. I loved it so much that I took the 36 hour course for Activity Directors. I had been pursuing a Art Degree which I have used many of those courses and ideas in working with the elderly. This is not just a job for me but it is being able each day to make a difference for the elderly who cannot do things for themselves and seeing a sparkle in their eye when I do the smallest simplest thing for them. Something that I have used as a motto for my work especially with the Dementia Residents is what one of my instructors said. If you dig deep enough what they are doing will make sense. I am so glad that I have had the chance to work in this field with the less fortunate of God’s children.

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Tammy Harrington Point , ACC

I grew up in a small town of 200. I was related to most of the town. Several of the relatives were older and you take care of your own. I used to help clean their homes, run errands and get their mail. I went a church that didn’t have many teens I ended up going to the “old” people Sunday School. When I was able to get a job I wanted to work in a Nursing Home. I started as a Nurse Aide before OBRA’ 87 took effect. I believe that the Lord has given me a special talent for working with the elderly. I remember one Resident that would beat everyone up that took care of her. No one wanted to feed her or take care of her, she was so mean. Even her own grand-daughter that worked there wouldn’t go in her room. One night I volunteered to feed her. For some reason I felt I had to go in. As she was swinging at me as I tried to feed her, she stopped looked right at me and said “I’m so sorry, I don’t know why I’m doing this, this isn’t me, I am soo sorry, please forgive me” and just like that went back to cussing at me and swinging at me. It was then I realized there is more to these people than we give them credit and I wanted to make their world a little better even if for a moment. I joined the military to pay for my education. When I got out I went right back to working in a Nursing Home, but this time in the Activity Department. I believe if I can give them something to think about besides their reality, then I can give them quality of life.

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Arlene Anderson

I grew up in the Philippines got married to American man, meet him when I was working in Hong Kong as nanny of old wealthy Chinese woman. My family education is very important but for some reason my entire philosophy or outlook of life is different. When I was a little girl my dream is to see many different countries, explore and learned different kinds of culture. So, without the knowledge of my parents the money that supposedly for my college tuition I used to apply in agency to go to Hong Kong and work as a domestic helper, a way for me to go work in different place w/c is happened in Hong Kong. This chinese wealthy old lady who is looking for good nanny happened that she choose and hire me as her nanny. At that time I don’t have any experience to be a nanny of old people, I was nervous and scared but I still took the job. Within a couple months I received my visa and airline ticket and ready to fly. My parents was so shock and of course mad when I told them about everything. But it’s my decisions so they give me the Blessings and leave my country. To make the story short I became her nanny and learned to take care of her and since then it’s become a passion for me to take care of this people. I came to America, start our family and stayed home with my kids till they start kindergarten. I start to find a part time job and fortunately I got hire but every time there is a layoff I am the first one to get out of job. So, one day I tell to myself I think I am going to school and get my certification as STNA. So, I got my certification and apply here at Utica Care Center. For some reason, I enjoyed taking care of them and mingling with them. Everyday my residents looking forward to see me because according to them I always make them laugh and just happy to see me. For the couples years I’ve work as STNA my administrator always ask me if I can cover the activities when there is a call off or vacation. So I did that for few years fill in and residents make a nice compliment to my boss. So, when our old activity director quit my administrator ask me if I will try the job as activity director for 90 days. If I don’t show any progress I will go back as an aid. Fortunately within 2 months of being the director they told me I got the position because of the good progress I have shown. We have annual survey and the second day of our survey, one of the state surveyors told the owner and my administrator that the facility is so fortunate to have me as a activities. My boss had a meeting with me that night and told me all the compliments the surveyor told to my bosses. Hearing all the good compliments inspire me more to better and served my residents. I love my job and it’s makes me happy to see all my residents smiles every day and provide them the activities they deserved for the last few years of their life. I always tell our new aids that our residents are used to be like us working and somebody else. So treated them with respect and give them the chance to be like us. For me beside my own family my residents are my second family and it breaks my heart when one of them passes away. It just my hope that God will always bless me with good health; lots of patience and ability to served and give them the best I can possibly provide.

Recently, a car company used a famous actor to sell cars. The commercials were interesting, to say the least and became the butt of jokes and parodies. However, the actor said something in one of the commercials that was rather profound. He said “Sometimes you got to go back to move forward. Need to go back to see where you came from; where you’ve been, how you got here; to see where you’re going.” The activity professional’s look back period is a short one. The Federal regulations defined our profession as a requirement in 1974 although the healing power of recreation and leisure is documented well before that. In our early years, we were known as the “Three B’s- Bingo, Bible Study and Birthday Parties”.   The success of our programs was measured by how many people we could gather up for the program, not so much whether individual needs were being met. The activity class which trained us varied from state to state and was at most – 36 hours long. Residents with dementia were considered “senile” and often spent much of their day in restraints (to keep them safe) and medicated (to keep them calm). Looking back, it was not a pretty sight.

Today, the activity professional is just that – a trained professional. Education requirements have increased and national certification through National Certification Council for Activity Professionals is the standard most individuals strive for. NCCAP certification may not be the “easy” road but our job is not easy either. Today, our care facilities are based on person directed care, rather than the medical model from years ago. The activity professional is a leader in developing person directed programs, both individual and group. The activity professional is an advocate for the elder, assisting the resident to make their own choices and to continue living life as best they can for as long as they reside in our care facilities. Becoming nationally certified through the NCCAP provides the activity professional with knowledge as well as a national credential which is respected by state and federal agencies. Today, the trained and certified activity professional has earned their position as a vital, equal member of the care team.

Where do we go from here? What will tomorrow bring for the activity profession? We need to be mindful of three major areas of change – the populations served, the care settings in which we work, and available resources.

-We are already aware of the changing population – the arrival of the Baby Boomers. The age wave of independent minded, individual loving, health conscious people are already peeking in our door. We have begun to adjust our programs and approaches to focus on the new perspective and very individualized needs of this next generation of residents.

-Interestingly enough – this new generation of “elders” (don’t call baby boomers elder) will re-shape how we care for people as they do age. Nursing homes will focus more on sub-acute care and rehab while long term care options will segue into smaller communities. We are already seeing new care facilities adopt the Greenhouse Model which are smaller homes for less than 12-15 people.   There will be a growth in the “Niche Care” or “Affinity Retirement” communities. These communities cater to the shared interests of a group. Burbank Artists’ Colony in California caters to creative arts of all kinds; Rainbow Vision in New Mexico caters to the LGBT community; and Lakeview Ranch in Minnesota which is specialized dementia care for those who have farmed their whole lives are just a few examples. There will be a return of multi-generational communities; communities where people of all ages reside together but in a supportive way. The Treehouse Foundation is an example of structured multigenerational living. In the Treehouse Communities, older people live in cottages, next door to families who are caring for foster children. Both groups benefit from the support systems in place as well as opportunities to build meaningful relationships. Lastly, remaining in the home will become easier with the increase in home care services.

-Finally, more resources will be available to all care givers, in all settings. The growth of technology will enhance not only independence but quality of life.   Adaptive tools will be readily available to all and using them will become the norm rather than the exception. Independence, individuality and living life to the fullest will be a standard for all and who better to guide them through the process – than the Activity Professional.

So, as that famous actor said in the commercial – looking back can be helpful and can guide us in making decisions for our future. The future is bright and quite exciting for the activity profession.   For information about NCCAP certification or assistance in defining your certification path – contact Debbie Hommel at debbiehommel@comcast.net