Learning At Any Age

Roni and GwendolynI think a true sign of a transformed culture is when the Elders living in the home are afforded the same opportunities of growth as the Stakeholders. When we can all grow together to truly set a vision for tomorrow, a clear path towards culture change is being built.

At Signature HealthCare we have trained hundreds of Eden Associates over the past few years. Through all of these trainings, we’ve never had an Elder express interest in attending until recently.

Connor McChurch, Administrator at Westmoreland Care and Rehabiition Center recounts Gwendolyn’s story below

As Gwendolyn Brown was being assisted into my front office Thursday morning, I could see the joy that she was feeling by her shoulder shimmy dance moves and the spark that lit up her face. Just 24 hours prior, Gwendolyn had achieved a milestone that she admitted “I didn’t think I could ever get at my age – I feel proud.” Gwendolyn had participated and completed a three day training program through The Eden Alternative called ‘Certified Eden Associate Training’. The training was hosted by Westmoreland Care & Rehabilitation Center where Gwendolyn currently lives as an Elder.

Knowing by her body language of how she was feeling, Gwendolyn confirmed when I asked “How does it feel to be an Eden Associate” by quickly responding “it (certification) made me feel good!” Gwendolyn went on to explain how much she enjoyed the training, particularly how interactive the training was, saying “my favorite part about the training was when everyone was acting out the training skits; I could see how much fun everyone was having”. One main part of Eden Associate training is getting the trainees to recognize how important being well known is through their elders’ eyes. One way to “be well known” during the training is to make your last name rhyme with your first and must contain a type of animal. Gwendolyns’ name she picked was “Jean Jax”.

Gwendolyn closed our conversation by remarking about the facility, “This place is always good.” “I feel like it’s my job to tell people how good you all treat me.” She went on to say she was apprehensive about first coming to Westmoreland Care & Rehabilitation Center over two years ago but admits, “It was better than I thought it would be.” Gwendolyn went on to say she enjoys her morning exercise, Friday Happy Hour, and friends – “all in that order!”

Principle Two of the Eden Alternative  teaches us that the “solution” to fighting the three plagues of loneliness, helplessness, and boredom is to create a Human Habitat. In fact, this Human Habitat is a place in which relationships are not only formed but are nurtured to growth.  The beauty of this week for Gwendolyn was that during the training, she was “one of the classmates”.  She was not limited to what others thought she could do. This has to be the key to creating a life worth living.

The Joy of Falling Snow

12548958_1095140857184701_2313172715474656656_nWhat is it about a fresh snowfall that makes our hearts leap with joy? Maybe its the excitement of watching and waiting, never quite knowing what the end result will be. Or possibly it’s the pure joy of feeling snowflakes on our face as we look up towards the sky.

With a big snow forecast in Kentucky, the Administrator of Oakview Care and Rehabilitation Center, did as any servant leader would do. She packed her bags to spend a few nights at the home so she could be there if needed. It was during this time of giving that she received her largest blessing.

 12592347_1095140830518037_9089752967934504908_nSarah recounts the story below:

With the impending forecaset, I decided to spend the night at our home. I woke up around 3:00 a.m. and decided to check out the snow situation. I saw several nurses and nursing assistants had gathered at the front door to take in the scenery. The freezing rain had finally stopped and converted to snow. Leann Gardner, one of our nurses, stopped to tell me that one of our Elders had been waiting up all night for the snow to arrive! She said he was so excited when it finally began and that they had stood by the window together to watch. She also mentioned that he could hardly wait to touch the snow. It was then that I grabbed my robe and snow boots and headed down to his room.

1915384_1095140927184694_4136196577564154304_nWhen I walked into his room, he couldn’t believe that I was there in the middle of the night. After I explained why, I asked him if he wanted to go outside and see the snow. I got a definitive YES!. After he was dressed, we linked arms together and we made our way to the front door.

Once outside the snow was so beautiful. Mr. Hack commented on how the flakes felt wet when they hit his face. We just stood and watched the snow fall together. After standing quietlly and taking in the view, he was ready to walk back to the porch.

He turned to me as we approached the porch and said, “You know its been a long time since I made a snowball! Do you think this is good packing snow?”.  The snow had already piled up pretty high on our porch rail by then so I simply scooped up a handful to see if it was wet enough to pack. I offered it up to Mr. Hack and he began to pack it! I could tell he was “itching” to throw it, so I offered myself up. I told him, “Go ahead, just throw it at me!”. He looked at me like there was some kind of catch or I was setting him up. He agreed to throw it at me but only if I would cover my head! We tossed around a little more snow, then decided to go back inside. He had the best smile on his face and so did I.

12400625_1095141037184683_2596072472808874477_nMr Hack went back to his room and I went to mine. I was now wide awake and my heart was so warm. It felt so good! We often talk about “simple pleasures” but it was in that moment that I knew what had just happened! I had been given an opportunity to help him experience something that he hadn’t done in years. Better than any medicine, we conjured a memory and added another experience to Mr. Hack’s “book of life”!

Someone once said that “a snowball in the face is surely the perfect beginning to a lasting friendship”. I can’t imagine any more perfect way to celebrate the first big snow of the season than between two friends sharing a special moment in time.



The Gift of “Giving”

CHRIS AOver the past few weeks as I passed in and out of busy department stores preparing Christmas gifts for loved ones, it was certain that i would pass many bell ringers for the Salvation Army. In fact, it’s so ingrained into our holiday season that I’m almost certain we would miss the faint ringing of those bells if it were not present.

This week, something special happened for an Elder living at Signature HealthCARE of Putnam in Cookeville, TN. An opportunity to continue living a life that he’d always led.

Shelly West, QOL Director, of SHC Putnam shares his story below:

When you stop by Signature HealthCARE of Putnam County in Algood, Tn, you will most likely find Chris Alexander volunteering his time to work in our Country Store, but recently he has added a new vocation: Bell Ringer for the Salvation Army.

Prior to coming to live at Signature, Mr. Alexander, who worked for the Sherriff’s Department, enjoyed helping several different charitable organizations, particularly at Christmas time. He collected toys for Toys for Tots, delivered Christmas dinner to shut-ins, and volunteered for the Salvation Army. He says volunteering helped him to keep a thankful heart and made him feel appreciative of being able to provide for his family and others. He also says he was very depressed when he first arrived at Signature, but the opportunity to work in the store gave him a sense of purpose and made him feel important.

This week, when one of his favorite CNA’s jokingly suggested he could ring a bell and collect money like at the stores in town, Mr. Alexander took the idea and ran with it. “Why not?” he thought. He set up a collection pot and began ringing his bell to collect money for his favorite charity, the Salvation Army. Before long, the news had gotten around, and a representative from the local chapter of the Salvation Army came right over to bring Mr. Alexander all the official gear of a Salvation Army Bell Ringer. He raised over $50 in a matter of hours! So now, when you visit Signature HealthCARE of Putnam County, you will find Mr. Alexander in his red Salvation Army apron with his Santa Hat and red collection pot ringing his bell proudly, enjoying being able to continue giving back to the community he loves.

Eden Alternative Principle Four teaches that by creating opportunities to give care as well as receive care we are able to combat the deadly plague of helplessness. While Mr. Alexander may have more purpose this holiday season, he also is spreading a more timely message. I see this as a gentle reminder from our Elders to slow down, enjoy the season and keep a thankful heart for what we have.


Mary’s Holly Jolly Fudge

V__A776“Will I get to sign autographs?”, Mary Thomas, exclaimed to those around her when she learned she was the first winner of Signature HealthCARE’s “Taste of Hometown” competition!  Mary Thomas is an Elder who currently lives at Clinton County Care and Rehab in Albany, Ky. Her recipe for “Holly Jolly Fudge” was chosen over 55 other recipes submitted for the event’s kickoff.

Mary shared with everyone how making this fudge reminded her of Christmases long ago. It sparked memories of Mary and her sister, V__B1EFIzetta, growing up and making this candy together.

Today Mary Thomas became famous in her own right. We have learned over time that honoring identity is one of the best ways to promote growth and spark culture change in our communities. There is no better way to honor identity than to share the special memories that encompass our Elder’s lives including their favorite recipes!

In fact, becoming well known is a key tenet of The Eden Alternative. It is Putnam1through the process of helping our Elder’s to become well known in their communities that we encourage relationships to form and be strengthened. Today that is exactly what happened for Mary. Thousands of people in 56 communities were able to not only taste Mary’s Holly Jolly Fudge but were also able to take her written recipe and special memories home with them.

So I’m finishing this story by sharing Mary’s special recipe with each of you.

Mary Thomas recipe




“My Wish For You”

Grand Ole Opry Pic2015SpencerBillHappiness, laughter, joy and glee were all words that I would use to describe the second day of our Nashville Elder Vacation. The day couldn’t be any more perfect as we climbed aboard our buses for a three hour town of the downtown area. The Elders had the opportunity to visit many historical sites such as “the mother church of country music, The Ryman Auditorium! They also visited The Parthenon, Bicentennial Park and the TN State Capitol building. Everyone loved learning the history of the city!

Stopping only for a quick lunch at Opry Mills Mall, this group of travelers walked across the street to the Grand Ole Opry for a private backstage tour!  We were all star struck as we walked through the “artist’s entrance” and saw where the giants in country music got their start. It was hard to believe that we saw dressing rooms where musicians of the past such as Roy Acuff, who joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1938 and was the first living inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1962 got ready to perform!

Then our Elders had the opportunity to walk jennyacross the stage of the Grand Ole Opry and sing or talk into the microphone! Their excitement of looking out across the huge auditorium spurred many to creativity! Jenny, who lives at Signature HealthCare of Erin, sung an original song to her heart’s content from the stage! Betty, from Pine Ridge in Elizabethon, TN, exclaimed, “Can you imagine seeing a show here?”. She was amazed when she learned she was getting to attend one that evening!

Next it was time for dinner at Santa Fe Cattle Company, where our Elders chose from steak, catfish, ribs or chicken! There was no time to waste as we boarded the buses to go back for the evening show at the Grand Ole Opry!

PineRidgeExcitement filled the air as everyone chattered about the lineup of guests performing at the Grand Ole Opry! This evening our Elders would be treated to The Swon Brothers, Del McCoury Band, Easton Corbin, The Willis Clan, Connie Smith, David Nail and Rascal Flatts! The entire experience was almost surreal, from shaking hands with a Hank Williams impersonator to watching our Elders who were so determined to transfer from their wheelchairs into the church pews of the Grand Ole Opry. The expressions on their faces as they looked around the Opry house and felt the history of the auditorium seep in. We were only a few seats from the stage where history would once again take place. Only this time, we would be part of that history!

OpryShow15To some, we are only on vacation with our Elders. But to those who joined in the trip, they saw that something magical took place. We saw doors open for Elders like Joe, who had never left his town before. We saw happiness in the many faces of our Elders who showed all of Nashville the warmth of their smile. But most importantly we learned that dreams are supposed to be big!


We also feel that Rascal Flatts sang this song just for us on Tuesday night:


My Wish

I hope the days come easy and the moments pass slow,
And each road leads you where you wanna go,
And if you’re faced with a choice, and you have to choose,
I hope you choose the one that means the most to you.
And if one door opens to another door closed,
I hope you keep on walkin’ till you find the window,
If it’s cold outside, show the world the warmth of your smile.
But more than anything, more than anything

My wish, for you, is that this life becomes all that you want it to,
Your dreams stay big, your worries stay small,
You never need to carry more than you can hold,
And while you’re out there getting where you’re getting to,
I hope you know somebody loves you, and wants the same things too,
Yeah, this, is my wish……..


I Hope You Dance-SHC Nashville Elder Vacation Begins!

chesapeake91 Elders and Stakeholders from Signature Hometown made their way to Nashville on Monday to kick off our 11th Elder Vacation. The group will be staying at Gaylord Opryland Resort and Spa with atrium rooms in the Garden Conservatory Suites for this trip.

As our special guests arrived on Monday, the Elders couldn’t believe the magnificence of this resort. Everyone had to pause for a photograph in front of the cascading waterfalls before moving on to investigate their rooms!

The trip officially began as we boarded the historic General Jackson Showboat. The boat cruises down the Cumberand River and offers dinner as well as Marie at Opryentertainment. The Elders ate quickly so they could roam about the 300 foot boat to take in the sights of downtown Nashville from the river. After seeing all the beauty of the city, everyone returned to their seats for the show portion of the evening. Marie, an Elder living at Oakview Care and Rehabilitation in Kentucky, swayed back and forth as the show began with some songs she knew well. Her eyes held a faraway look as she told us how her father would sing her this song as a little girl. I imagined that in that moment she heard her father singing to her again.

StanleyAs the show continued a general sense of camaraderie fell upon the group. Friendships were already beginning to blossom and the seed of companionship was already growing among the group. Looking around, all I could see was true love and friendship in it’s most raw form. Stanley, an Elder living at Signature HealthCare of Warren, reached over and wrapped his arm loving around his nurse. A beautiful testament of how caring is a road that goes both directions.

It was in those very emotional moments that we remember the many reasons we are on our 11th vacation. It’s because these are the moments that truly demonstrate the super powers of our Elders. It’s during these times that we are reminded Spencer at Riverboatfully of the revolutation ahead of us to change how our Elders are viewed and treated by others.

Lee Ann Womack said it best, so for our Elders:

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder

You get your fill to eat, but always keep your hunger

May you never take one single breath for granted

God forbit love ever leave you empty handed

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean

Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens

Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance

And when you get the choice to sit out or dance

I hope you dance…I hope you dance.





There’s Magic In Each Of Us

Jenny in sandGrowing up, I always believed Walt Disney World was a magical place. I can remember gathering around the tv on Sunday nights with my family in anticipation of the Disney movie that aired each week. Walt Disney World was always that elusive place where anything could happen in a blink of an eye or with a flick of the wrist.

There’s an old saying that says “those who don’t believe in magic will never find it”.  This week I’ve discovered the beauty of that statement in so many ways. Our second day at Disney was nothing short of magical.

The magic began as we gathered at the Ohana breakfast to jumpstart our day with not only a great meal but wonderful atmosphere!  The word Ohana means family and it was a beautiful sentiment as we sat around the tables to celebrate WP_20150923_012our Signature family coming together. We also enjoyed spending more time with Mickey, Stitch, Lilo and Pluto!

Next it was off to make dreams come true at the Magic Kindom! Everyone’s eyes were filled up with excitement as we made our way through the gates in anticipation of what the day would bring.

For many people the day represented many different things. Of course there were rides, characters, food, fireworks and parades but there was really so much more than that. For Ms. Jenny, there was hope, joy and inspiration. From the first moment I met her smiling eyes, I knew she was going to be a friend. What I didn’t realize was the impact she would make on my life in three short days. Ms. Jenny didn’t come to Disney looking for magic like most of us, she came with a mission to Jenny Disney 2015experience as much of life as she could. She crossed many things off her “bucket” list this week. Things like riding Splash Mountain, meeting all the Disney characters, and getting her feet in the sand on a beach. She wisely told me it was “ok” to act  like a kid if you wanted to because that was part of living our lives out.

WP_20150923_398Then there was Thelma. Her biggest dream was to come to Walt Disney World. The magic started for her before even arriving as she set goals for herself so she would be able to attend! She refused to let things stand in her way. She worked steadfastly to improve her walking and other skills so she experience this trip . For her, it was affirmation that she could reach her dreams and accomplish her goals!

As the day progressed the magic continued! Everywhere I looked I could see it sparking in different places. Moments of laughter and energy as Ms Anna danced with the characters on Main Street U.S.A. or the look of accomplishment as Ms Mary finished with the most points at Space Ranger Spin.  Moments of awe as Ms Lula experienced It’s A Small World for the first time. The love between Group Castle 2015a nurse and an Elder as they shared special moments in time together that will never be forgotten.

So you see, the old saying was right. If you believe in magic, you will find it. This week our Elders have given us the greatest life lesson of all. They have shown us that there is magic in all of us, we only need to pursue our dreams to activate it.

The Magic Begins-Disney Day 1

Disney Epcott GroupYesterday 87 Elders and Stakeholders from Signature Hometown homes traveled into Orlando to kick off the beginning of their very “magical” vacation! There were smiles all around as they climbed off the Mickey’s Magical Express and saw the beauty of their Polynesian Resort!

minnieTo kick off the vacation, everyone was treated to a private Luau party! It was there that our Elders got to meet their very special guests, Mickey and Minnie for the first time! It was truly love at first sight as the ladies hurried to put on their “red” lipstick to give Mickey a kiss while the gentlemen whistled at Minnie as she walked by! Everyone had the opportunity to get a special picture with both of them along with their “authentic” signature!

The magic continued today as most of us rose early to take advantage of extra park hours at Epcot! It seemed everyone enjoyed the many sights and sounds of Epcot including Soarin’, building their own car, journeying into Spaceship Earth and making their way around the World Showcase!

mallard disneyOur motto today was living life to the fullest and none fell short on that! Ms Leeta shared with everyone how she was scared of water but decided to “take a chance on a boat” and she was glad she did!  Ms Jenny inspired us all with her will and resolve to take in as much as she could and Ms Lula kept us all entertained with her quick wit and great sense of humor!

Soon our magical day turned into a magical evening as our group gathered together on the pavilion in Italy for a private dessert party and viewing of Illuminations! As they arrived, each Elder had a special stuffed Mickey in their seat!

Disney Private Party SunriseIt really is possible to have your heart so full of joy it spills over!  I think one of the ladies said it best tonight when she said she felt “all squishy inside”!  I’ve learned today that you can be a princess at any age and inside all of us lurks the joy of childhood that we only need to rediscover to experience for ourselves!

Stay tuned for our updates tomorrow!



Our Last Day In The Cradle of Liberty

Cheers GroupAs we set out to explore the city better known as the Cradle of Liberty, we couldn’t help but bask in the beautiful day that was set before us. Comfortable temperatures and a blue sky made the perfect setting for another day of exploration.

After a short morning walk, we knew we would enjoy this day of sightseeing together. Everyone was chattering as we climbed aboard the open air trolley car and took a seat to be entertained. As we started rolling through the city of Boston, we saw such sites as the Bunker Hill Monument, The U.S.S. Constitution, Boston Common, and made our way through the shopping district with fun narration from our guide “Gordie” the entire way.

Swan BoatIt was Gordie who told us we couldn’t visit the city without taking a ride on the Swan Boats in Boston Gardens and we agreed that we would love to give it a try.  The Gardens area was tranquil as we made our way walking through it in search of the small boats that sat out on the water. Some took the ride on the Swan Boat and some preferred to rest under the shade of the beautiful weeping willow trees planted around the water’s edge but all of us had a beautiful morning together.

After our boat ride, it was time to visit the original Cheers on Beacon Hill. We all giggled with joy as we were escorted to the famous “Back Room” for our lunch! Elders laughed about all of the “action” the Back Room saw on the show and of course we didn’t want to let down the reputation of the area so we had to have some fun of our own! Gary was thrilled to visit another place on his ultimate bucket list and couldn’t wait to order a beer in an original Cheers mug! He told me during lunch that he had always watched the show on TV and could hardly believe that he was eating there.

Ezelle last dayAfter lunch our driver, Gordie took us on an “unofficial” tour of Boston and showed us famous spots such as the Statehouse where the Declaration of Independence was signed and read for the first time, a quick tour of MIT, and the famous finish line for the Boston Marathon.

Even after all of this fun, our day was not complete without a tour of the Boston Tea Party Ship and Museum. Everyone enjoyed taking a participatory role in the reenactment that showed how all of the tea came to be dumped in Boston Harbor and then a wonderful historical account of that fateful evening that prompted our Independence. Our Elders especiallly loved being part of the skit and enjoyed learning more about our past.

Corbit last dayAfter a busy day of sight-seeing our group was tired and decided to finish our time in Boston by having dinner together at Barney Fannings.  We all had tears come to our eyes as we reminisced about our time in the city and knew we would soon part ways.

Thinking back on the beauty of this trip, I realize it was only fitting that we would be visiting the city known as the Cradle of Liberty. It truly is a city in which independence runs free. While we were there, we could see independence rising in the Elders as they gained their self confidence back. It was joyous to watch them realize they could in fact do things they may have doubted they could accomplish only a week earlier. The lessons we learned about independence and true liberty will reign in our thoughts as we view our Elders with new eyes. Eyes that see their independence, know their resilience, and admire their perserverance. The city known as the Cradle of Liberty has forever impacted our lives and for that we are grateful.


Exploring Boston’s Hidden Treasures

Erin stingraysAfter sleeping in and having a leisurely breakfast from Max’s Deli Cafe delivered to our rooms, everyone was ready to explore the city of Boston! Energy was high as we started on our journey to the New England Aquarium! The New England Aquarium, being one of the largest aquariums in the northeast, held alot of hidden treasures to find within! The Elders were enthralled by the penguins and marveled at how they “took care” of each other. They all took a turn touching the stingrays except for John, who said he had experienced those “first” hand and didn’t want anything to do with them!  We all loved searching for Myrtle, the 50 year old sea turtle, who reigned magestically in the center tank for everyone to see.

Jackie BoatAfter a quick break at the harbor this fearless group of explorers determined to grab a ferry over to Hingham Shipyard and eat lunch at Wahlburgers! The ferry boat added to our sense of adventure for the day. Some of the Elders climbed on top to feel the wind in their face and catch some good pictures of the shoreline as we traveled. Jackie, a former Navy Officer, felt right at home on the “high seas” and shared some stories of other times he had passed through Boston in his life.

Arriving at Hingham Shipyard, the group anticipated a tasty lunch at Wahlburgers. The restaurant, known for it’s variety of special burgers, lived up to our expectations. Gary even said the “Surf’N’Turf Burger” was better than the “Baconator”.   Everyone enjoyed a leisurely lunch at this famous hangout before making their way back into the city.

Rhonda WahlburgersAfter a short rest (and some ice cream) at the hotel we were ready for an exciting evening. We had a delicious dinner at Bertucci’s, where everyone relaxed,laughed and just enjoyed each other’s company. After dinner, there was still some exploration left to do as the group visited Faneuil Hall. While exploring Faneuil hall, Corbit sat for a caricature of himself and we all marveled at how much it resembled him. His excitement could not be contained at the piece of art (being an artist himself) and he coudn’t wait to call home to tell everyone all about it. Some explored the shops and bought souvenirs while others explored the culture of Boston and enjoyed the street dancers and entertainment that Faneuil Hall had to offer.

Wahlburgers groupLike all great explorers before us, we have gathered our treasures and are taking them back with us. However, our treasures might be a bit different than those you’ve read about in history books. We’ve found treasures of love, happiness, joy, and meaning. We have discovered there is great value in laughter and that living in the moment is without price. We’ve learned that it’s healthy to take risks and to live without limitations. However, most of all, we have learned that our relationships with each other are the true catalyst to the change that we all seek.  And in the end, these treasures were housed within us all along.