Algoma Manor Nursing Home
Welbi Heroes highlights unsung heroes of senior living communities, recreation professionals, and shares their stories, lessons learned, and insights into their success. This month, Melissa Milford shares her experience as an Activation Aide at Algoma Manor and explains why more people should consider recreation as a career path.
We hope that you and your communities enjoyed a restful holiday season. As we ring in the New Year, we’re happy to introduce you to Melissa Milford, our first Welbi Hero of 2022!
Melissa is an Activation Aide at Algoma Manor, a long-term care community in Thessalon, Ontario. She started at Algoma as part of the housekeeping team, but as she got to know the residents better, she was inspired to improve their lives.
“I always wanted to find something more that I could do for them,” she shares. “When an option for being an activity aide popped up, I applied on a whim and didn’t think anything would come from it, but I ended up getting hired! It was something I just fell into, but it’s been awesome.”
Who is she outside of her career? When she’s not at work, Melissa says that entertaining her dog Bo is her highest priority. Melissa loves outdoor sports, and she and her husband like to spend their time kayaking, camping, and hiking.
What about the misconception that recreation can be slow or boring? As an activity aide, Melissa is always on the go. Running group activities, spending one-on-one time with residents, and facilitating virtual calls with families are just a few of the ways she engages her community at Algoma Manor. There’s also mail to deliver, birthdays to celebrate, and other team members to help as the need arises.
“It’s never a dull moment,” she says. “The schedule of activities is planned, but you show up, see what everyone needs, and go from there. It’s crazy here sometimes!”
Melissa says the goal is to keep everyone happy, but it takes a lot of hard work and creativity to ensure that each resident’s unique needs are met.
“A really difficult part of our job is being that support for the residents who need extra care or who you have to think outside of the box to bring comfort to,” she explains. “It’s difficult, but as a team, we all rally together to brainstorm and figure it out as we go. It’s a learning experience for all of us.”
Another common challenge is when activities don’t quite go according to schedule. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a solid week of activities that didn’t go haywire,” Melissa says. Her advice?
“Always be ready for there to be a stick in your bike tire. Backup plans are a necessity.”
So, with the hectic nature of her career, what advice would Melissa give to someone who’s just starting out?
“My best advice would be to put yourself out there and try to be a people-person. Residents aren’t going to come to you to tell you what they want to do, what they like doing, or what their past experiences are. Half the fun of the job is getting to figure everyone out.”
One of the most rewarding parts of the job is getting to know residents — especially for Melissa. Recently, she’s been learning more about them through the weekly book club that she hosts. She explains that reading together lets her connect with residents through stories that resonate with them.
“We try to find books that touch base with everyone who’s listening,” she says. “I find that my floor is big on history, so we’re reading Anne Frank right now. I don’t know much about the book, but they’ve lived it. I find that intellectual programs like these are a really good chance for me to get to know the residents, but also for them to get to know me. It’s a learning experience for all of us.”
Why does Melissa find this to be the most rewarding aspect of her career?
“It’s so nice to give them something fresh and new every day, or just to keep them entertained and to emotionally engage with them. There’s so much that you get from this job that you wouldn’t have expected.”
Melissa then tells us about a surprising and heart-warming moment she had while spending one-on-one time with a resident, which she says is one of her best memories of the job.
“The resident was having a good day, and she was very talkative. She actually started talking to me about my mother-in-law and my father-in-law, and she told me that she knew my husband when he was just a baby. I didn’t even know that she knew them! It’s a very small world.”
Activity professionals like Melissa strive to offer personalized programming that caters to their residents’ interests and hobbies. But getting to know everyone takes time, especially in large communities like Algoma Manor. Melissa’s strategy to solve this challenge? Welbi’s Attendance Recommendations, which give her personalized activity suggestions based on the profile and preferences of each resident.
“It’s one of our favourite features that everyone always comments on. It’s such a time-saver. When you’re planning something and you don’t know anybody, you just go into that and it shows you which people will probably go,” she explains.
The feature uses community insights to predict which residents are likely to attend a program, which Melissa says directly helps her save time so she can spend it engaging with residents instead of planning.
“It takes a lot of the running out of your job. We don’t always have time to look up who we think would want to go to a program or to go around and ask everybody. With Welbi, all that information is already there. It does so much extra work for you.”
Melissa also uses Welbi’s insights to keep track of important wellness metrics. “I like to pay attention to the insights page to make sure I’m hitting all the aspects of wellness that I’m supposed to. The insights are a lifesaver for me.”
What would Melissa tell someone considering or interested in Welbi?
“Welbi may look intimidating to some people who aren’t familiar with the program, as any new program would, but it’s super user-friendly. I have had no problems with it whatsoever. Welbi tells you everything you need to know, and it makes building your calendars a thousand times easier.”
To close our interview, we asked Melissa what she wants people to know about the recreation field.
“More people have got to get into it! It’s really something that’s needed and I think it’s quite overlooked. Before I got this job I had never even heard of it. I think it’s something that people should look out for as a career opportunity and that maybe needs a little more encouragement for people to get into because it’s really needed.”
We asked her how important she thinks recreation is in long-term care.
“I think it’s an absolute necessity, especially with COVID. Right now, we feel needed every time we walk on the floor. The residents miss you when you’re gone for vacation or off for the weekend. It’s an absence that they all notice.”
Knowing that she’s making a meaningful difference in the lives of older adults makes recreation a fulfilling career choice for Melissa.
“You don’t always have super awesome days, and every once in a while, something goes wrong, but you get to ‘be the happy’ as we call it, and you get to bring the fun. And I don’t think many people are as lucky as I am to get paid to bring the fun.”
At Welbi, we’re inspired every day by activity professionals like Melissa who go above and beyond to ensure their residents enjoy an excellent quality of life. Thank you all for the remarkable work that you do! Activity 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 Melissa, 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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