Don’t We All Want to Make a Difference

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Joan Devine, Director of Education
Pioneer Network

“The meaning of life is to give life meaning.”
~Viktor Frankl

Working in nursing homes, assisted living and other senior services or healthcare settings is not something most people get into because they think they will land that million-dollar job. In fact, back in my days as a manager, here’s something I used to tell prospective candidates: “I will probably ask you to work harder than I have any right to and I will never be able to pay you all you deserve for the work that you will be doing. That said, welcome to healthcare!”

When you ask people why they got into the work of caregiving, you generally get answers like “because I love working with people,” “I love to help people and want to know I make a difference,” or “because I saw what nursing homes were like for my grandmother and I want to be a part of making them different.”

Isn’t that what motivates many people, the desire to make a difference and to have meaning and purpose in what we do? And don’t we want that difference to extend beyond ourselves, and even beyond our families and immediate circle of friends and acquaintances?

In our personal lives, most of us spend a great deal of time with family and friends, engaged in activities that that are fun, entertaining, meaningful and enhance not only our lives, but the lives of others..

And so, starting each day armed with a goal of making a difference – for ourselves, our family and friends or at work, is something that is a driver for many people – their reason for getting up each morning.

This drive for meaning and purpose – this reason to get up each morning – does it end when we get older, when we retire? Most of us know individuals who have retired and are now busier than ever. Why? Because they have sought out new ways to add meaning and purpose to their lives. Turning a hobby into a second career, traveling, caring for grandchildren, volunteering. We equate “aging well” with having a renewed sense of meaning and purpose – that reason to get up each morning.

So how does all this impact the world of long-term care? In recent years, we have seen a move from traditional “activity” programs to “life enrichment,” from a schedule built around keeping people busy to one that is built around keeping people engaged.

This is a very good thing, but we can do better. How about taking engagement a step further and adding even more connection and meaning?

Well, it’s happening!

At this year’s Pioneer Network conference, we heard from the team at Rockport Healthcare Services about their program, Heart to Serve, in which residents prepare and serve food for the homeless in their communities. We also heard from the team from Schlegel Villages who shared stories about their Elder Wisdom program, where Elders connect with the community at large, sharing their wisdom and talents. You just have to watch these video clips to see the pride these residents/Elders have in what they are doing, and the value that meaning and purpose has in their lives.

A heart to serve Elder Wisdom With Norm and Lola - June 2016, Guelph

These are two incredible stories, but we know there is so much more happening out there. Pioneer Network would love to hear your stories and join with you in celebrating your successes. To share with others the possibilities – to spread the word that being old and living with disabilities does not mean you no longer make a difference.

And so, we encourage you to find out more about the Community Commitment Award. If you have a program to enter, we look forward to hearing your story. If you don’t have a program today, we hope to inspire you to work with your residents and seek out opportunities as we all learn and are inspired by the incredible things happening in organizations around the country and around the world.