Pioneer Conference Keynote Inspires ‘Living Our Values’ at Jewish Senior Services

“…the generations must find ways to share daily life. Elders need the stimulation of young people … elders need relationships with middle-agers, whose challenges are not so far removed from their own at that age. Children and young people need first hand contact with elders so that old age is not a strange, foreign country to them.”

— Carter Catlett Williams, 2013 Pioneer Network Conference keynote address

photo by Samantha Whitefeather
photo by Samantha Whitefeather

Social worker, educator, author, recently widowed, Assisted Living resident – Carter Catlett Williams, having experienced it all, speaks eloquently and with authority on the subject of aging and the losses it brings.

So when she urged participants at last year’s Pioneer Network Conference to connect elders with people of all ages through community participation, it struck home for Linda Ciszkowski and her colleagues from Jewish Senior Services (JSS) in Fairfield, CT.

“Six of us from campus went to the conference. At dinner that (first) evening, we all kept going back to what Carter had to say,” says Ciszkowski, Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer.

Back at JSS, they pondered how to translate Williams’ words into action. They discussed it in meetings with the Steering Team, in the organizational newsletter, and with anyone who would listen.

Initiatives to encourage resident-staff relationships already were in place. Why not build on those efforts to include residents’ families and local communities, they thought.

They presented the idea to the organization’s neighborhood action teams. Each of the nine teams came back with a different plan for how their neighborhood could connect to the wider community. Thus was born the “Living Our Values” projects.

“Part of our sense of self-worth is bound up in the knowledge that we remain contributing community members and open to new relationships.”
— Carter Catlett Williams

Living Our Values

Those values include, among others, compassion and truth; resident-centered, resident-directed; peace and good will; repairing the world; giving generously of ourselves … these are what the neighborhoods’ community projects aspire to, says Ciszkowski.

The Tandet East neighborhood invites local heroes to lunch. Held approximately four times a year, the first “Heroes Luncheon” honored local police with a full Italian meal.

“We hung up a sign that said ‘Our local heroes,’” says Ciszkowski. The police officers stood up and spoke about what they do every day, and then sat and conversed with residents as their tables. Some of the officers continue to visit, says Ciszkowski.

A second Heroes Luncheon honored students from Sacred Heart University who served as missionaries in El Salvador. “They did a power point presentation for the residents and told about their experiences in Central America – again it was a wonderful event,” she says.

The Tandet West neighborhood hooked up with a local anti-poverty agency, Action for Bridgeport Community Development, Inc. (ABCD). Residents travel to nearby Bridgeport and read stories to children enrolled in the agency’s fundamental reading program.

Other neighborhoods:

  • make and deliver get well cards for patients at local hospitals;
  • make musical instruments for children living in a domestic violence shelter or served at ABCD;
  • collect items for a local food bank;
  • bake cookies and make up “goodie bags” for residents living at other long-term care sites;
  • collect and package mini toiletries for the Thomas Merton Center for the economically disadvantaged;
  • make Veterans Day collage cards for US military members serving in Afghanistan;
  • visit other local nursing homes.

A child care center operates on the JSS campus. The kids there sing during our weekly barbeques for residents, says Ciszkowski.

Five-Minute Journey

Not every strategy to engage residents with others is a big production. Those take time, and for staff, “it’s a lot to ask for an hour or two, she says.

Not so the “five-minute journey.” A back rub, conversation over a cup of tea, sharing a story, playing cards – “We gave staff 99 ways to enjoy a five-minute journey with a resident,” says Ciszkowski.

Every resident in the organization is assigned a staff partner who is expected to connect with the elder at least weekly. That way, not only the popular residents, but even the less communicative elders can connect with someone regularly in a five minute journey, says Ciszkowski.

The Pioneer Network Conferences, a well spring for ideas like these, have become an integral part of JSS’ culture change journey. “They afford the opportunity to meet with counterparts of all disciplines, share experiences, do intensives and help one another,” Ciszkowski says. She and five other from Jewish Senior Services will attend in 2014.

Will they be looking for anything special at the August 4 – 7 conference in Kansas City?

“More of the same – inspiration and motivation,” she says. “We all come back from the conference pumped and ready to go. Bringing people together to share what’s been done in the past and what’s going on now is a power education for staff.”

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