Welbi Heroes highlights unsung heroes of senior living communities, recreation professionals, and shares their stories, lessons learned, and insights into their success. For Therapeutic Recreation Month, Jill Kelly shares her advice as a Recreation Therapist on how you can boost resident engagement in your community.
Jill is a Life Enrichment Manager and certified Recreation Therapist at Whitehorn Village, an Origin retirement community in Calgary, Alberta. She got her start in senior living working as a health care assistant. Jill wanted to spend more quality time with the residents, so she made a career change. “I always had a passion for fun and activities, so I decided to do recreation and never looked back,” she says.
Jill has been a recreation therapist with Origin for twelve years. Her favourite part of the job?
“It’s getting to know the residents. I love being able to sit down with them, chat with them, and look at their pictures. I can think of a million stories that the residents have told me that will stick with me forever.”
Jill manages a team of three recreation aides at Whitehorn Village. As a recreation therapist, Jill is responsible for the resident assessments that are the backbone of recreation planning.
“Assessments give us so much information that we use to design programs,” Jill explains.
“You have to think about the goals and the outcomes of the program, and the people and their abilities. Our programs are well-planned out and we focus on the whole person.”
How does Jill ensure her program calendar meets resident needs?
“I program my calendar to meet the dimensions of wellness on a daily basis. In the mornings we do exercise, in the afternoons we do cognitive activities, and in the evenings we do spiritual and emotional activities.”
As a manager, Jill likes to inspire her team with prizes and some friendly competition.
“I’ll tell them that if they invite five new people to each program they do this week, they’ll get a Tim Hortons gift card. We have a lot of fun in here and we keep each other motivated.”
Recreation may sound like it’s all fun and games, but there’s a lot going on behind the scenes.
“There’s a reason we do these activities, and we want outcomes,” Jill says.
She’s after key performance metrics like high attendance and engagement that tell her the residents at Whitehorn are getting the benefits of recreation.
But there’s a big challenge in keeping track of these metrics for 189 people. The team at Whitehorn Village recently onboarded with Welbi to tackle this challenge head-on.
Previously, Jill and her staff were consulting a binder of resident information to see if they were hitting their targets. “Really, all we were going on was memory and attendance,” Jill says. “I’m really looking forward to getting all my information in Welbi so my staff and I can just pull from that.”
What’s Jill most looking forward to with Welbi?
“I’m excited for the improved communication between us and the nursing department. They’ll be able to see resident attendance and assessments in their progress notes for care conferences. I’m also excited to target more people with our programming. I’m sure there’s room for improvement on who we invite to our programs and I’m looking forward to seeing that with Welbi.”
Improving resident engagement is a key goal for all recreation professionals. But since the COVID-19 pandemic, many recreation professionals have noticed that residents are hesitant to leave their rooms. How does Jill approach this challenge?
“I think we need to spend more one-on-one time with those people and chat with them to see what we can do to get them out of their rooms. If you have extra staff, you can ask them to go to a program with that person just to get them comfortable. We also invite family members to attend programs with their relatives.”
The team at Whitehorn also focuses on proactively reaching out to residents. “A lot of time is spent on inviting residents to programs because sometimes people forget or lose track of time,” Jill says. Reminding residents of upcoming programs that match their interests is a surefire way to raise attendance.
But Jill’s best trick for boosting engagement? Let the residents run the show. Resident-led programs see more active participation because residents are excited to share their knowledge and skills with others.
“The residents come to us with life experience and we need to draw on that in our programming,” says Jill. “I’m facilitating the program, but they’re running it. Residents are much more engaged when it comes from them.”
And the best part? Jill gets to pick up some new skills. “When I’m baking with my residents, they’re really the ones who are teaching me because they’re the most experienced!”
To close our interview, we asked Jill how she’s seen recreation evolve over the last twelve years. The biggest change? Her residents’ growing interest in technology.
“I remember when I started twelve years ago, none of the residents even had a cellphone,” Jill says. “Now, we get a lot of questions about technology, like how they can use their phone and take pictures. They’re even more interested after COVID since a lot of them learned to use things like Facetime. That’s definitely not something that we had twelve years ago.”
Wherever the future of recreation is heading, it’s going to have to keep up with a new generation of tech-savvy seniors.
At Welbi, we’re inspired every day by recreation professionals like Jill who go above and beyond to engage 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’d like to read more stories from exceptional professionals like Jill, sign up for the Welbi recreation newsletter - a monthly digest for senior living professionals with inspiring stories, activity ideas, and tips and tricks delivered straight to your email inbox.
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