One look at City View’s monthly activity calendar will tell you that recreation manager Rachelle Rowland is passionate about engaging her residents. With special events, outings, and activities ranging from movie nights to jazzercise, residents of this Ottawa-based community are sure to find fun ways to spend their time. Welbi is excited to introduce Rachelle as our first Recreation Director of the Month as part of a series we’re launching to shine a spotlight on recreation professionals who go above and beyond for their residents. We sat down with Rachelle to learn more about how she builds an engaging recreation program and her passion for helping her residents tell their life stories.
Rachelle has over 14 years of experience in the senior living industry, where she got her start in the nutrition field. While she’s since found her calling as a recreation manager, Rachelle tells us that becoming one was never part of her plan.
“I’d always just worked in retirement from a young age and I volunteered my entire life in a retirement residence,” she says. “I used to volunteer because my mom was working in retirement. I volunteered in all kinds of aspects from helping her with the flu clinic to helping with activities, to helping serve events, anything like that. It kind of was just a natural thing that I fell into and I just ended up loving it.”
As a recreation manager, Rachelle is always on the lookout for fresh and exciting activity ideas. To make sure her activity calendar meets the needs, hobbies, and interests of her residents, she often asks them for suggestions. She also gets activity ideas from the rest of the team at City View and the wider community of recreation professionals online. Rachelle tells us, “There’s an abundance of other creative people willing to share. There’s so many great websites online that you can choose from that have resources as well,” she adds, sharing that her favourite is Pinterest.
While Rachelle always has her residents in mind when planning her activity calendar, she knows that their diverse needs mean that not every activity will be a hit with everyone. She finds this to be one of the most challenging aspects of her career.
“We can’t make everybody happy. So, I think that probably the hardest thing is not to take things to heart if something doesn’t work.” Rachelle’s advice is to “just enjoy the learning process of it all.”
At City View, one event that is always sure to be a hit is the annual trip to Ottawa’s Magic of Lights Tour, which Rachelle highlights as one of her favourite experiences she’s had on the job. “You’ve never seen seniors be so like kids on Christmas.” Rachelle proudly told us that even with COVID-19, they were still able to fill two rental buses to attend the Magic of Lights Tour this past winter. We asked Rachelle how COVID-19 changed her operations.
“Well, it changed everything pretty much 180. Lots of extra work, lots of extra precautions, and it’s all unknown. So, nobody really had an answer for what to do.”
When the pandemic hit, City View staff sat down as a team to brainstorm how they would make it work. “We were able to adapt pretty much everything and it’s really nice to be able to slowly get back to how we were before.”
Rachelle tells us that coming up with activities during the pandemic takes even more creativity. “With COVID right now, you’re thinking outside several boxes.” But she was able to adapt her residents’ favourite activities to the new pandemic restrictions with positive results.
“We’re not letting the pandemic stop us,” she says. “We’re still being safe, but still getting our quality of life in there as best we can in the circumstances.”
We asked Rachelle if it gets overwhelming trying to stay upbeat for her residents amid the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic. “It can,” she admits. “But we have amazing residents here. So, it’s very easy to just come in and know that you’re going to have a great day no matter what happens. They’re an amazing bunch of people that we have here. There’s really no secret to the positivity. It’s actually a great time to come into work.”
To Rachelle, the people she meets are the most rewarding part of her career.
She tells us, “It’s getting to know the residents and their family members and just hearing different stories that makes it all worth it.”
Rachelle believes in the importance of telling these stories, both for the residents and for their families. “I think something that we all have in the back of our mind as we get older is, ‘are we going to be remembered?’ So, sharing residents’ stories is not only important to them but to their families as well, I think, to carry on a legacy once they’re gone.”
She’s helped launch several initiatives at City View that give residents a chance to share these stories. One of these is City View’s time capsule project. It was marketing manager Angele Labranche who brought the idea to Rachelle for Senior’s Month in June.
“So that’s something that we worked on together to bring to life.”
At the time of our interview, residents were still adding to the time capsule. “They were a little hesitant at first just because they didn’t know what to put in. But they’re quite excited to see what other people are putting in there.”
Another project Rachelle launched to encourage residents to share their stories is City View’s Senior Spotlight series. Rachelle explained her inspiration to us.
“Senior Spotlight is a web series I started a couple of months ago just because you meet so many amazing people and they have such great stories, and most of them should really be shared. So, I took the time to interview a couple of residents and get them to share it. A lot of them are very shy . . . it was just kind of a highlight on the really cool people we have here that call [City View] home.”
This project was another collaboration. “Again, it is a marketing teamwork thing,” Rachelle says.
“We’re very team-oriented here.”
To Rachelle, one of the stand-out stories is Jack’s, which you can read here.
Whether she’s coming up with exciting activities, adapting to pandemic restrictions, or launching creative new projects, Rachelle knows that her team is there to support her. At Welbi, we’re proud to be part of Rachelle’s team. Welbi’s software supports Rachelle in her daily operations to make it easy for her to focus on delivering engaging recreation programs.
“It’s so much easier to use Welbi than it was with me having to do it on my own,” she tells us.
With Welbi, it’s easier than ever for Rachelle to evaluate the success of her programming and find ways to improve it. She tells us that high attendance is “always a great sign” of a program’s success, so it’s one of the first things she looks for. To save herself time, Rachelle tracks her residents’ attendance and levels of participation at once with Welbi’s all-in-one attendance feature.
For Rachelle, Welbi means no more fighting with finicky software that slows down her administrative processes. “I spend a lot less time formatting things that just won’t format. You move one thing, everything moves. There’s no winning. Thankfully, with Welbi, there’s none of that.” With Welbi’s calendar feature, formatting her activity calendar is now simple every time. And when Rachelle needs help, she knows that the Welbi team is always here to support her. “I’m pretty sure I know everybody there [at Welbi] and I’m pretty sure everybody there knows who I am too,” she shares.
To close our interview, we asked Rachelle what she would like to tell the world about recreation managers. “We don’t just call bingo! I’m pretty sure that whenever you say recreation professional, people think bingo.”
When asked what she wishes society would better understand about its seniors, Rachelle had this to say:
“Seniors are just full of wisdom and knowledge. They experience so much love and laughter, and so many different things. But everybody focuses on wrinkles and the really terrible parts of aging. But I think nobody realizes that each of those wrinkles has a story and had a lived experience that we may never have again. There’s no limit in age. And I think a lot of people limit in age. Every wrinkle has a story, and it should be heard.”
At Welbi, we’re inspired every day by the passion, drive, and dedication that recreation professionals like Rachelle bring to their roles. 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 Rachelle, 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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