Recreation professionals are some of the most dedicated people we know! Jennifer Wasden, recreation manager at Sunridge Gardens, has devoted years of her life to improving the health and wellness of older adults. With an impressive twenty-one years of experience, Jennifer is an industry veteran.
“As of June 22, I will be starting my twenty-second year working in recreation,” she tells us proudly.
Jennifer got her start in recreation by working a part-time position. “I had kids at that time and my youngest was in kindergarten, so it was perfect for me,” she shares. “I was hired on a Thursday and on that Saturday I got thrown into a huge Father’s Day car show event. I just fell in love with it.”
Four years ago, Jennifer had the opportunity to join the family at Sunridge Gardens, a Bria Seniors Community in Langley, British Columbia. “The doors at Sunridge Gardens opened up. I thought, ‘You know what? Change is good.’ And I love the Bria family.”
Jennifer’s love for her career shines through in every activity and event she plans for her residents. Jennifer is famous at Sunridge Gardens for her little touches that turn an event into an experience. She never forgets the details, like offering root beer floats at an Elvis event, that make a theme come together.
Some of Jennifer’s touches are anything but little. She tells us that the high tea she staged for her residents at the time of Prince Harry’s wedding was complete with a three-tier wedding cake. “Everything was elaborate down to the napkins.”
Jennifer loves to go above and beyond for her residents. She knows her efforts will pay off when she gets to see their eyes light up as they walk into an event room for the first time.
“I just love creating that element of surprise. It’s all about that wow moment, you know?”
Jennifer also loves making her residents laugh. She tells us about a recent remote control car race that unexpectedly gave her and her residents a lot of laughs. “The ladies were pushing the buttons on the wheel so fast they had no idea where their cars had gone. We laughed hysterically.” She says that “making them [the residents] laugh so hard they can forget about the stresses of the world” is the most rewarding part of her career.
Jennifer is supported in her role by team members Ashley and Douglas. “My recreation assistants are both phenomenal,” she says. “I have a wonderful team. If some days I’m not with the residents, they know it’s because I’m behind the scenes working on something big.”
Recently, Jennifer has had an exciting project in the works. She’s looking to go “bigger and better” than ever for the upcoming gala celebrating the ten-year anniversary of Sunridge Gardens.
“It’s all about the music, and the champagne, and the hors d’oeuvres,” she says. “It’s going to be very elegant.”
The afternoon event will feature live music from a Suede Dogs act and a slideshow depicting ten years of Sunridge Gardens memories. Ten-year staff will be recognized and a bouquet of flowers is to be presented to a resident who chose her suite from the blueprints of the building.
“That’s a big thing,” Jennifer says. “Ten years in a home they are proud to be a part of.”
Jennifer is also already hard at work planning for the holiday season. She describes her community as “a little crazy about Christmas.” Last year, the residents at Sunridge Gardens celebrated not just one, but all twelve days of Christmas. Jennifer says that spreading holiday cheer while working around pandemic restrictions was one of her finest moments as a recreation manager.
Each of the twelve days, she and Ashley would leave hand-wrapped gifts outside their residents’ doors. The residents were always excited to see what the ‘elves’ would bring them next. This year, Jennifer plans to outdo herself by inviting the wider community to attend the celebration. She was kind enough to invite us to attend, too. We would love to experience Christmas at Sunridge Gardens, Jennifer!
The incredible events that Jennifer holds at Sunridge Gardens are sure to create some wonderful memories. We asked Jennifer to share a favourite memory she’s had on the job.
“I would have to say that over the last four years, my favourite memory happened just a couple weeks ago. One of our residents, Hanna, hadn’t seen her daughter in twenty months due to COVID.”
Jennifer collaborated with Hanna’s daughter, who is from the United States, to plan a surprise reunion after 20 months of separation for the mother and daughter. Jennifer says the reunion between Hanna and her daughter was touching to behold. “That was a really special moment, to see that connection.” You can watch the reunion for yourself here!
Now that all residents are vaccinated and the worst of the Covid restrictions are over, Jennifer is looking forward to seeing her residents connect and make new memories with each other again. She shares that she plans to use Welbi to help her community get back to normal.
“Because of COVID, there was a lot of isolation, and we need to get those people out of their rooms. Welbi helps us pinpoint the residents we really need to encourage and help bring out.”
The recreation team at Sunridge Gardens implemented Welbi just two months ago, but Jennifer is already seeing the benefits. She shares that before Welbi, time constraints meant that program attendance did not always get taken. When it came time to review a program, Jennifer had to rely on memory alone.
“That’s what I like about Welbi,” she tells us. “I can look at the attendance through Welbi and I can say this is a really strong program because I don’t have to try and remember six months ago. With the attendance, it’s awesome because we can see who we’re missing. I can look at how many people are really strongly involved in a program and I can look at how many are not there. It gives me a really good spectrum of how we’re impacting the residents.”
Jennifer is looking forward to sharing this information with residents and their families. She says that one of her residents was surprised to hear that she had participated in twenty-four programs the previous month. “When she came to do her profile with me, she was shocked that she’d done so much!”
Program attendance is also helping Jennifer decide which programs would be beneficial to run again and which ones to put on the backburner.
“I try to balance the calendar in a month so everyone has the opportunity to get what they need,” she explains. “It’s really important that BriaFit™ hits all aspects of wellness. Welbi helps me focus on what my residents need. It’s all right there in my database. It helps us build better programs for what our residents’ needs are. That part of it is really going to help us as we continue to grow with Welbi.”
We can’t wait to see all that the Sunridge Gardens team accomplishes with Welbi, Jennifer!
To close our interview, we asked Jennifer what she wants the world to know about recreation professionals.
“We don’t just play all day. We are the next closest thing to family to our residents. When they have a bad day, we hear about it. We’re here to laugh with them. We’re here to cry with them. We’re here to comfort them. That’s so, so important to be that person for them.”
We asked Jennifer what she wishes society would better understand about its seniors.
“Seniors are books of wisdom. They have so much knowledge to share. The younger generation needs to hear it.” She adds that “seniors are not lost in the world. They have so much purpose and meaning. I think sometimes that is forgotten about.”
Jennifer shares some of the ways her residents are living meaningful lives through helping others. From knitting purple hats to raise awareness for shaken baby syndrome to partnering with local food banks and the Fraser Valley Foster Parents Association, the residents at Sunridge prove that older adults have a lot to give. “It’s all about being able to help the community.”
At Welbi, we’re inspired every day by recreation professionals like Jennifer and her team who go above and beyond for their residents. Thank you all for the remarkable work that you do! Recreation professionals play an incredibly important role in senior living communities keeping older adults safe, healthy, and living life to the fullest. Your hard work deserves to be acknowledged and celebrated. If you would like to get support from Welbi in your everyday operations like Jennifer, chat with us or book a demo of the Welbi platform. We can show you first-hand how Welbi can save you countless hours on administrative tasks so you can focus on what matters most — spending time with your amazing residents.
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