Loving Your Residents: A Program Director Shares Her Experience

By Laura Redilla, Program Director at Commonwealth Senior Living at Churchland House

As our residents are telling us their love stories, I decided I would tell you why I love my residents and why they are my love story.

Growing up I saw my grandparents every single day.  They were at our house when we arrived home from school.  My grandmother cooked dinner every night for the entire family.  I loved that we were all around a great, big table having dinner and sharing our daily stories.  Everyone helped clean up, yet we were never told to do so. Can you imagine sitting around the table with both sets of grandparents, your parents, and all the children in today’s world?  We just did it.  My grandfather was the “homework and project helper” in our family.  Now, we spent a lot of time with our parents as well, but it just was not the same.

We called my mom’s dad, Poppy Ralph.  He retired from Goodyear Aerospace.  He built the first Goodyear blimp. He also worked on the Alaskan Pipeline and spent several years in England working on special projects for Goodyear.  He loved to stay busy and was always up for a project.  Science fairs became his love as we were all going through school.  He helped all of us (six of us), and we never had the same project twice.  One year, I choose the birth of a horse.  He set up a video camera in a family member’s barn and watched it 24 hours a day.  He took pictures as the horse progressed in her pregnancy. He made sure the barn was warm enough, and when it came time for her to deliver, he picked me up from school to make sure I understood the process before I wrote my paper.  He loved to be involved.  I could go on and on and tell story after story. He was my HERO!  My point is that I have always been surrounded by seniors.

I started my career in 2010 after many years of the hustle and bustle of the corporate world.  I had a family friend diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.  We had been very close for over 15 years.  My children came to love her as a grandmother.  Catherine needed someone to help her with her treatment days, her ADL care, and just daily life as she wanted it to be as normal as possible.  She was given a life expectancy of about 3 months with or without treatment.  I was fortunate enough to be able to take a leave of absence to take care of her.  Life changed quickly.  I quickly became “almost a nurse”.   Chemo treatments were not fun, but it was a walk in the park compared to radiation.  This is where I started my road to making someone’s daily life a little bit better with an activity (or two).  As we started radiation, we sat daily with the same group of people in the same waiting room with the same fate in store for the day.  I started bringing in card games, words of inspiration, adult coloring books, trivia, and history of where each of these lovely but sick people grew up.  We became a close knit group of individuals.  I would stop and pick up coffee or their favorite hard candies for after their treatments.  They lost their hair together, weight together, and one by one they trickled off.  Some passed away and some finished therapies.  For those who finished we rang a bell and rang it LOUD!  For the less fortunate, we said a prayer and talked about what an amazing person they were.  It was strange yet comforting to me.  I even had a bucket of inspirational thoughts that I placed at the radiology check in desk.  It made me feel good to see people pick them up and smile just a little in such a trying time.

As Catherine’s treatments were not working and she was becoming sicker and sicker, I decided I needed to find a position where I could make a difference in someone’s life.   I started to research Programming and Activity positions in the Hampton Roads area.  I had a few interviews but really did not think much about it.  Catherine was in and out of the hospital, and life was hectic.  As we entered the hospice world, I came to grips with the the process of life and death.  Catherine passed away peacefully one early morning, and that day I received a call for a position as an Activity Director here in Hampton Roads.  Quickly, I began to embrace the culture of senior living.  I was able to use my training skill set to orient new associates, learn about our residents, and develop a program to create a well-rounded lifestyle at all stages of senior living.  Mind, Body, and Spirit.  To this day, that is exactly how I approach each day.

Everyday, I go to Commonwealth ready to participate in activities and share my knowledge with our residents.  My daily goal is to make their lives better.  Put smiles on their faces. I feel I do that well, but the knowledge and lifelong learning I gain everyday from our residents is why my residents are my love story.

For example; when Mrs. H turned 100 years old this month, her cousin had written a poem of how many changes have happened in her life time.  I love to hear those stories.  From a family defecting from a communist country when she was 13 to the WWI/Vietnam/WWII/Pearl Harbor stories we are presented with daily.  Most of us cannot imagine what it is like to live without electricity.  Several of our residents can.  We complain when the A/C is not blowing strong enough, and our residents can tell us what it was like to read by candlelight or ride a horse to school. How many people can say they have seen the first Model T Ford and the first all-electric car?  To me, the knowledge they share with us is worth more than our paychecks.  My children spent 8 years in the senior living environment and embraced the respect, dignity, and values of the seniors they learned there.  I truly feel it has made them better adults. I am honored and proud of the adults they have become. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and I believe that is true.

My residents have taught me to slow down and smell the roses.  “Laurie, don’t worry. The work will wait for you”.  I hear often in the course of the day.  Our world is now BIGGER, BETTER, FASTER.  I am now taking their advice and stopping to “smell the roses” Each and every person in the building is like a family member.  From the oldest resident to the newest staff member. So, as you can tell, I LOVE WHAT I DO!  I take pride in my work and I cannot imagine doing it anywhere else.

If Laura’s love story makes your curious to see where you could make an impact in one of our communities, visit our career page: https://www.commonwealthsl.com/careers/