Director of Life Enrichment
Welbi Heroes highlights the unsung heroes of senior living communities, recreation professionals, and shares their stories, lessons learned, and insights into their success.
This month, Director of Life Enrichment Travis Bruntz shares how he revamped his activity calendar to meet the needs and interests of a new resident population at Healthwin.
Travis worked in education for twenty years before he began his career in senior living. He struggled to find a permanent teaching position and had to take on short-term assignments as a substitute.
“I would build connections with students and establish a classroom, but I would have to leave after a few months,” Travis says. “It wore me out, and I was looking for something new.”
The opportunity to pursue a career change came when schools closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “For about two months, I was out of work and watching the news,” he says.
“I was seeing all these heroes across the country who were showing up to work every day and saving lives.”
These heroes inspired Travis to begin a career in health care. He took a position as a personal care assistant at Healthwin, a long-term care community in South Bend, Indiana. The position allowed him to be close to his aunt, who had recently moved into the facility but couldn’t visit family due to lockdowns.
Not long after, a friend recommended that Travis apply to the activity department. Travis convinced his supervisor that he would be right for the role. “She agreed to give it a try, and it was just such a natural fit.”
But Travis didn’t stop there. After a year of working in activities, Travis was approached for the role of Director of Life Enrichment. His supervisors saw that his skillset as a teacher and his strong work ethic would transfer well to the position. Travis rose to the challenge and has now been the Director of Life Enrichment for about one year.
The Life Enrichment team was facing significant challenges when Travis assumed the role of Director. Pandemic restrictions meant that the team could not follow their usual programming, and they faced a shortage of volunteer power.
“The restrictions and social distancing have been very difficult,” Travis shares. “We used to have over a hundred volunteers, and they would run their activities around every half hour. Now, we have about five volunteers because we haven’t been able to bring them all back in. We’re slowly starting to work towards a new normalcy.”
The community has also been seeing an influx of new residents. The Life Enrichment team now has to get to know the interests, hobbies, and needs of these residents and adapt their programming accordingly.
“Before the pandemic, we had a population that had been here for years,” Travis explains. “The activity team that was in place then knew exactly what they liked, and they had a routine that changed very little. Now, as we’re getting an almost entirely new population, we’re learning that what was popular then isn’t popular now.”
Travis saw a need to completely overhaul the community’s activity calendar. It’s a challenge that he approaches with enthusiasm.
“Finding the activities that will be the big draws has proven challenging, but we’re discovering new activities that are really exciting as we’re adjusting our programming to fit what the residents like.”
To improve the activity calendar, Travis is moving the community away from traditional senior-centre activities. “Looking back at our past calendars, it was the standard to have bingo once a day, every day. It took up so much of our programming time,” he says.
Now, the community limits bingo to weekends and holidays to make room for new programs. Travis strives to achieve a balance between fun and familiarity when planning activities. “We always try to have some of their favourites with a splash of something different and a little daring.”
And how does Travis add excitement to the calendar? “One of the things we look for are the important events coming up in the next month,” he says. “That gives us a lot of opportunity to do things that are outside of the box.”
He tells us that the community recently celebrated Dyngus Day, a Polish holiday that marks the end of Lent. “We have many residents with Polish heritage, so it tied in with something that was part of their lives every year before they came here. It’s a great tradition and it’s really a lot of fun.”
Seasonal activities also allow the Life Enrichment team to switch up their programming. As the weather improves, they’re holding more excursions. Residents recently enjoyed a visit to South Bend’s History Museum, and Travis is currently planning a trip to the zoo. And for the residents who can’t make the trip? Travis has a solution.
“One of the things that I take into account is how we are going to impact the most people. We can’t take the entire facility on a zoo field trip, so I contacted the zoo and found out that during the summer, they do educational visits with animals. We’ll be able to bring the zoo to the residents.”
Another way Travis brings the show to the residents is with entertainers. One of the community’s biggest events of the year is a performance by an Elvis impersonator. But Travis decided to change things up and hire a Johnny Cash impersonator who turned out to be an unexpected hit. “People were so excited because it was something new and different, but still nostalgic,” he says.
Members of the board who were visiting their family members attended the show and sent letters to the Life Enrichment team praising their work.
“Hearing that my staff is doing a great job was just so rewarding.”
As Director of Life Enrichment, Travis strives to bring fun and variety to his residents’ lives. The result of his hard work?
“We have been able to see an increase in attendance as we’re moving away from pandemic restrictions and adding more diverse activities to the calendar.”
The team has noticed that residents are now more engaged and excited for what each day has in store for them. For Travis, seeing how the activity program benefits the residents is the most rewarding part of his career.
“When residents have nothing to look forward to, that can lead to mental and physical deterioration,” he explains.
“Once we were able to bring back people’s favourite things, we could see the life coming back into them. That’s a fundamental part of the care here, and it’s the reason they come to us. We’re directly affecting their quality of life.”
At Welbi, we’re inspired every day by recreation professionals like Travis 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.
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