A Thanksgiving Message From Pioneer Network’s President & CEO, Penny Cook

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As we approach Thanksgiving, I reminisce about why it’s my favorite holiday. I love that in my family we gather without the exchange of gifts, without commercialism, and enjoy each other’s company while cooking, eating and then usually, eating again. But this is 2020, and those traditions will have to wait because it’s a year unlike any other. Instead of being all together, my family will stay scattered, our celebrations will be limited, and we’ll instead focus on another pillar of Thanksgiving, gratitude.

With so many people being challenged by the pandemic because of illness, job loss, financial stress, burnout and the loss of family members, friends and colleagues, it seems harder this year to say that word without thinking about the effect the last nine months has had on everyone.

Joan, Penny and Cathy

For me, I’m thankful that those who I know that had Covid-19, have recovered. I’m grateful that my immediate and extended family have people surrounding them with love and support. And because I’ve been spending the vast majority of time in my house, I’ve realized how much I love my home and my neighborhood. Although certain aspects of life have changed dramatically, I feel so blessed. The lessons I’ve learned are ones I want to keep with me – to cherish the interactions with strangers on my daily, masked walks; to relish cooking new recipes every weekend; to recognize that I am able and willing to change; and to realize that I don’t need all the “stuff” that I’ve surrounded myself with in the past. My life has come back to the basics and I like it. I wish it didn’t take something like a pandemic to teach me these things but at least I’m capable of learning.

Then there’s my work life. We at Pioneer Network worked virtually before March so that didn’t change. Like everyone else though, I’ve never looked at myself so many times a day as I do now through Zoom, Teams, and WebEx. And I never thought I would be so happy to receive a meeting invitation that includes a phone number only! That’s not to say that things haven’t changed for our team. Beginning in March we started asking the questions, what do people need from us and how can we get it to them? How can we be there for people that are trying to care and support residents, coworkers and their own family as well? How can we change what we do to be of service to others? We heard the stories from senior living and care communities across the country and from our global friends too and they were both inspiring and heartbreaking. We decided that our role was getting people the resources, education and connection they wanted and needed.

We developed a resource page to help combat the isolation residents were experiencing and stressors team members were feeling. We offered our webinars at no cost if people couldn’t afford to pay. We connected people to peers when they had questions we couldn’t answer. And we decided being the pioneers that we are, to try our hand at a virtual gathering to bring the network together. It wasn’t easy, at times it wasn’t pretty, but over 800 of you joined us and we did it. We convened staff members, educators, surveyors, ombudsmen, consultants, board members, vendors, care partners and residents. We had more residents attend our annual event than ever before. What a beautiful silver lining!

Like in my personal life, the Pioneer Network team realized that we can pivot and be flexible. We’ve always promoted change, but now we had to embrace it as well. This year hasn’t been easy, but it’s shown all of us a strength that we might have forgotten exists within each and every one of us. It’s proven to us that we all need support, it’s never a one-way street. And it’s shown us that vulnerability exists and it’s perfectly acceptable to show it.

As we prepare for Thanksgiving, however we decide to observe the day in our communities and with our families, let’s celebrate the silver linings. I’m reminded of one of my favorite Grateful Dead songs, Touch of Grey. In 1987 no one thought this single would go very far and it was an unexpected hit, their only song to make it into the mainstream Top 10. All four of the band members contributed in some way to the lyrics and it became a song of hope and resilience with the simple refrain, “I will get by, I will survive.” Our silver linings may have a touch of grey, but they’re there. Find yours during this season of gratitude.

Please, take a moment and share your “silver linings.”


6 comments on “A Thanksgiving Message From Pioneer Network’s President & CEO, Penny Cook

  1. Maggie Calkins on

    I am connecting much more frequently with friends and family, former co-workers and long-lost buddies – yes via zoom and not in person with real hugs – but gathering none-the-less. I taught all my “coffee ladies” friends–who are aged 85-92 – how to Zoom back in March as soon as things shut down, and we still gather every Saturday morning for coffee/tea and a good catch up. Several former members of the group who had moved away from Cleveland are now joining us regularly- because they can. And because so many of us live alone, a few gather together weekly for dinner in someone’s garage with the doors open (and now heaters going). So this has re-taught the importance of maintaining connections.

  2. Christopher Perna on

    I appreciate your uplifting message at this challenging time. It is an important reminder that the best things in life aren’t things. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

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