residents participating in many activities at Goodwin House throughout the pandemic

Live with Purpose - May 27, 2021

Communities of Strength: Building Community During the Pandemic

By Amanda Ranowsky

At Goodwin House, we have always had a strong sense of community and it’s been richly experienced in many ways. For some, it’s that feeling of belonging to a group, or that sense of people mattering to one another. For others, it’s a belief that a group’s needs will be met through its members’ commitment to one another.

Throughout our organization, though perhaps especially at our Life Plan Communities—Goodwin House Alexandria (GHA) and Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroads (GHBC)—residents and staff have supported one another while also making consistent efforts to give back to the wider community around us.

During a year when social distancing and the resulting absence of opportunities to gather in person could have weakened our sense of community, we have emerged stronger than ever. This is due in part to the superb staff who went above and beyond to ensure residents felt engaged and connected throughout the pandemic. It’s also due to the strength and commitment of residents themselves, who took an active role in maintaining and enriching their community.

As we recognize Older Americans Month, we join the Administration for Community Living’s call to celebrate “Communities of Strength”. We acknowledge the “power of connection and engagement in building strong communities,” because we’ve seen those very forces at work in our own communities.

From Together to Apart

The COVID-19 pandemic changed life as we knew it. Almost overnight, we found ourselves unable to go to movies, restaurants and shopping malls, and in the spaces we could still visit, we were required to keep six feet apart or separated by the barriers of plexiglass, masks and face shields.

An October 2020 report by the AARP Foundation found that two-thirds of U.S. adults were experiencing social isolation. Between one third and one half of those respondents reported that the social isolation caused them to lack motivation, feel more anxious than usual or feel depressed.

Research has shown that loneliness and social isolation can lead to higher risks of health effects such as heart disease, depression and cognitive decline, especially among older adults. A sense of community can go a long way toward reducing these feelings. That’s why it was important for us to ensure residents had plenty of opportunities to be engaged and connected.

Pivot, Pivot, Then Pivot Some More

As new guidelines were issued and revised frequently, the Life Enrichment teams at GHA and GHBC had their creativity stretched as never before. These team members are responsible for creating and developing events and programming for residents. Until the pandemic, these took place in person. When the pandemic took hold of our lives in March 2020, the ground rules for organizing these activities changed dramatically and in ways we couldn’t have imagined.

“We all know now that the key word is pivot,” said Tiffany Proctor, director of Life Enrichment at our Bailey’s Crossroads location. “And we did just that – many, many times. We had to get creative and stay creative as we worked around the things we could and could not do.”

Maura Ferrigno, director of Life Enrichment at our Alexandria location, agreed. “As we navigated the protocols and all the restrictions in place to keep everyone safe, out of that came a lot of innovation and creativity.”

As might be expected, much of the pivoting involved moving activities and events into the virtual realm.

Unexpected Outcomes

Leslie LaPlace, one of our full-time fitness managers, began to record exercise classes that would air on internal TV channels for residents to watch and participate from their own apartments. She also created a library of these recordings that residents and members of our Goodwin House at Home program can watch any time on YouTube.

Unexpectedly, the switch to virtual-only fitness classes increased resident engagement in exercising. “People who weren’t coming to the group classes are now exercising because it’s available to them in their rooms,” said Maura. “Leslie worked really hard to create not only a huge library of videos, but also handouts with exercises that residents could do in their apartments. She made sure residents had the tools they needed to stay active while staying home She also made classes and tips available to Goodwin House at Home members.”

Activities such as art classes and concerts also moved online. Art Center Coordinator Lindsay Mueller engaged presenters who offered art classes online. Events Coordinator Jennifer Bennett booked performers to air concerts on the internal TV channels. She also found musicians who were able to offer outdoor concerts, weather permitting.

“At one point, we were up to 50 virtual programs a week. This helped us ensure we were addressing the six dimensions of wellness,” said Tiffany. We continued to offer popular lecture series such as the Senior Quest for Meaning Series in an online format, moving the discussion to Zoom so that residents could still engage in the social aspect of those panels. “Elizabeth [Whitehouse, cultural arts and events manager] found herself becoming a budding videographer,” Tiffany joked.

“Our fitness and art classes never stopped,” Tiffany said. “We started duplicating classes to accommodate reduced room capacity, and began using different spaces like the auditorium. We had to start having people sign up for classes and change our schedule around a little bit, but the frequency of classes did not decrease.”

Care and Welcome

Residents didn’t rely solely on Life Enrichment to ensure their wellbeing. Alexandria residents appointed hall captains on each floor who would make sometimes daily calls to each resident on their floor. This effort eventually turned into what the residents named the “I’m OK Program”.

“Every hall captain figured out their own system,” said Maura. “They found their own way to maintain a strong connection and to make sure everyone was ok.” Another group of resident volunteers helped to deliver mail on each floor, another way of checking in to make sure their fellow residents were safe and well.

Another group of residents appointed themselves to provide tech support to those who might be struggling to adapt to new technologies that were helping us all stay connected. “Life Enrichment offered some classes on technology training,” said Tiffany, “but it was really that group of residents who made the most difference. Now everyone is a Zoom wizard!”

Residents also made efforts to welcome new residents who moved to Goodwin House during the pandemic. “I think the residents are amazing to new residents,” said Maura. “Every new resident I spoke to told me how a member of the Hospitality Committee meets with them and pairs up with them so that they have someone to reach out to with questions. They also say they’ve gotten dozens of welcome notes under their door, and baked goods dropped off at their door. That didn’t stop during the pandemic.”

“The Resident Council started a new welcome system,” said Mary Jo Kavjian, senior renovations and move-in coordinator. In her role at Goodwin House, Mary Jo works with people who are in the process of moving to one of our communities.

“Council members pair up existing residents with new residents. The resident “buddy” will contact the incoming resident to answer questions about living at Goodwin House. On move day, the buddy puts a welcome bag in the apartment with a few goodies and a sheet of important names, phone numbers and email addresses. There are usually at least two other buddy residents listed on that sheet, too.”

Community is Mutual

While the external perception of senior living communities might have you believe that residents are isolated, alone and confined within their individual apartments, the experience at Goodwin House has been anything but. “From the inside, we actually felt very connected,” said Tiffany.

The connection and engagement that residents and our Life Enrichment teams worked so hard to foster – along with the guidance of our Infection Precaution and Planning Team – kept our communities safe, healthy and engaged throughout the pandemic.

“We were always able to feel that sense of connection and reliance on each other,” said Tiffany. “We really gained more of a sense of mutual appreciation for each other. It was palpable in the community.”

“Our bond only grew stronger throughout the pandemic because they saw us getting those programs out to them,” said Maura. “They saw our efforts to create engagement packets. They saw us working to facilitate video calls so they could keep engaged with their loved ones. We did whatever we could to maintain their connection with their loved ones, and that built a new level of trust with us. That kind of connection really feels like family.”

______________________________

As Marketing & Communications Specialist, Amanda Ranowsky partners with colleagues throughout Goodwin House Incorporated to tell our stories and raise brand awareness. From printed collateral to digital marketing, Amanda covers many bases. Before joining GHI, Amanda worked for a small, family-owned business where she gained experience in content marketing. Amanda’s creative expression extends beyond the office. She is an active member of community theater and chorus groups.

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