This week, I’d like to share the story of the first time I ever visited Elmcroft on behalf of The Memory Initiative. If you’re new to this blog, please read about the background of The Memory Initiative before jumping into this post!
On my first ever trip to Elmcroft, I was accompanied by Natalie and Alice. We were meeting with Elmcroft’s activity director. Our goal was to tell her all about the mission of The Memory Initiative and how we wanted to establish a relationship with Elmcroft. Alice had priorly spoken to her on the phone and reported that she sounded beyond exuberant to meet us. Although we got the sense that she was an amicable woman, we were still a bit nervous walking through the doors, because we needed this partnership to go well in order for us to begin progressing our mission.
As soon as Elizabeth saw us waiting in the lobby, a vibrant smile flashed across her face. She greeted us with words of excitement and led us back to her quaintly decorated workspace. Once we gave her a thorough overview of what we’d like to implement within the assisted living facility, she jumped right on board. Being that she knew the residents of Elmcroft inside and out, she was able to work with us to refine our approach, making it dynamic and most likely to impact the women effectively.
Following our logistical and planning meeting, Elizabeth proceeded to give us a tour of Elmcroft. One of the embedded projects within the home is called “Second Wind Dreams,” which aims to make some of the resident’s dreams come true. It is similar to the Make A Wish Foundation, which does the same for children. One of the walls in the main group living room is covered in framed photos from events that brought a resident’s dream to life. Seeing the beaming smiles and discernible joy in the scenes of the photos was heart-warming and brought a sense of lightness to our project, which can sometimes be weighed down by the heavy challenges it aspires to tackle.
Elizabeth showed us many of the shared rooms in the facility, like the dining room, the activity room, the music room, and the garden room that looks out onto the home’s patio where residents grow plants and enjoy the beauty of nature. As we made our way through the multiple areas of Elmcroft, I noticed that Elizabeth made it a point to greet each and every resident she passed. They shared genuine conversation, and the residents’ love for her truly became clear.
Natalie, Alice, and I after meeting with Elizabeth
Far too often, employees in group living homes or similar facilities become so immersed in their employment responsibilities that they forget they are working with people. People all have feelings, and Elizabeth was sure to make the residents aware that their feelings are important, valid, and heard. Although the residents often lacked energy, Elizabeth made sure that she always radiated it. Natalie, Alice, and I became cognizant that if we were going to be visiting Elmcroft every week, we needed to emit as much energy and authentic care as Elizabeth to make the most of our mission. I’m glad to say that we were (and still are) up for the challenge.
A few weeks ago while my friends and I were visiting Elmcroft on a Sunday afternoon, we were introduced to a new service opportunity within the assisted living facility community. If you are new to this blog and unfamiliar with The Memory Initiative, please click here to read about the project’s inception and its goals before continuing to read on (or else it won’t make much sense!)
On that Sunday, we discovered that one of the women in the assisted living facility, Marge, used to be a librarian. She loved what she did as her career for many years, and she carries her passion with her still today.
When my teammates and I were in the process of designing The Memory Initiative, an important guiding force were our passions. As a result, we all recognize the important role that passion plays in our lives and how it influences what we do each day. Thus, when Marge expressed her passion for libraries, we decided that we needed to help her bring her dreams to reality. We wanted to help her continue to pursue her passion even if she couldn’t technically be a librarian anymore.
Elmcroft actually had a small library in one of the office rooms, but since it was rarely used and saw very little upkeep, the small collection of books had fallen to the wayside and became a memory of the past. In order to provide recognition for Marge’s cherished past, we contacted the volunteer coordinator at Elmcroft, Elizabeth, and we decided that we would help Marge take on the project of refurbishing the library. The home is currently in the process of buying new book shelves, and we are discussing the possibility of organizing a book drive in the State College community. We obtained Marge’s phone number and she calls us frequently to share updates about the project.
When my teammates and I visited Elmcroft most recently, we were unsettled to find out that Marge was in the hospital. We were told that she was going to be fine, but it was upsetting to not see her face that Sunday. Approximately ten minutes after receiving this news, we encountered Marge’s two daughters who were at the home to retrieve a few of her items. Addressing us by our names, they asked us how we were doing. Initially, I was startled as to how these women whom I had never met knew my name. As it turns out, Marge is so excited about the library project that she shares all of the details with her family members. They expressed how excited Marge is about the library and how its keeping her optimistic even in the hospital.
Apparently, Marge’s daughters had purchased filing labels as per Marge’s instructions. Marge had created a color-coded key so that Elmcroft’s books could be neatly organized by genre and cover type. So, after obtaining an outline of specific instructions from Marge’s daughters, Ava, Emily, and I spent the next hour or so categorizing hundreds of books as fiction, non-fiction, biography, and reference.
“Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.” ~Oprah Winfrey
Sorting through the books!
Last semester, I wrote a post on my former passion blog Happy in the Valley that detailed the specifics of a service project that I am currently in the process of shaping into an on-campus organization. We call it The Memory Initiative, and I have become so invested in the project and its aims that I have decided to create a new passion blog documenting my experiences with it. If you are unfamiliar with The Memory Initiative please use the link I’ve included to read my page that gives a general overview of the project…
When my teammates and I were going through the process of pairing ourselves up with mentors, I was lucky enough to be matched with a woman named Mary. Mary lived in Elmcroft Senior Living facility located in State College, and she was a resident of the Heartland Village, which is an area in Elmcroft that is specialized for memory care. You see, Mary has dementia.
I’ll be the first to admit that at first, I was extremely nervous to be working with a person who has dementia.
“What do I say?”
“How do I act?”
Although I may have learned about the epidemic in my high school psychology course, and I do anticipate to major in Neuroscience, I knew nothing about how to interact with people affected by it.
To my pleasant surprise, conversing with Mary was remarkably similar to how I would converse with just about anybody else. I asked her about her day, and she followed by asking me about mine. I’ve talked with Mary about the things that she likes to do, and although she may have dementia, Mary seems to carry out a tremendously healthful life. She loves to help out around the facility. When anyone is doing laundry, she is eager to assist in the folding of clothes. She likes puzzles even though she thinks that they’re tricking her sometimes, and books make her happy. Mary owns a large, tan, snakeskin purse, and even though she’s not as strong as she once was, she carries it with her everywhere. When I asked her why she doesn’t leave it in her room, she told me that she “wants to be prepared for anything.” Above all though, Mary loves her friends at Elmcroft.
My conversations with Mary never felt forced- they were natural and I felt comfortable when talking to her. In fact, although I asked her some of the same questions on multiple occasions, I received many different answers. She once told me that she had grown up on a farm with chickens and cows, and because she spent her days taking care of these animals all throughout her childhood, she is a workaholic still to this day. I asked her where she was from, and the answer to this question oftentimes varied as well. However, one thing always remained constant in Mary’s tales: her family. When Mary talked about her family, she communicated an immense sense of appreciation for them. Each of her family members she mentioned, she mentioned out of love.
During one visit to Elmcroft, I complimented Mary’s knit sweater and noted that it must be super cozy. To this she replied, “Oh, this old thing? I’ve had this since high school.” And a smile couldn’t help but spread across my face. Whenever I was visiting Mary and it was time for me to leave, she’d say something like “Please come back, because I do enjoy talking to you.” I came to notice that Mary made me smile a lot, sometimes even as I made my way to Mueller Lab at 8am on Wednesday mornings. In early November, my grandmother who had been on hospice care for over a year had passed away. I was unsettled, but visiting Mary somehow subtly remedied my grief. I missed my grandmother, specifically because I wished to have spent more time with her when I was still living at home. However, I found comfort in the fact that at least I could still positively impact the life of someone, even in the simplest way. Mary improved the quality of my weeks.
Just last week, I received notice that Mary had left Elmcroft to return home. Although a small bit of selfishness emerged as I regretted not having been able to say goodbye, I am overwhelmed with joy that she is home and reunited with her family again. Although my relationship with Mary was short-lived, it was meaningful. And although Mary forgot my name in between each week I met with her, I hope that somewhere inside of her she’ll remember me. Certainly, I will remember her.
“You are the sum total of everything you’ve ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot – it’s all there. Everything influences each of us, and because of that I try to make sure that my experiences are positive.” ~Maya Angelou