We heard from a few LeadingAge members who told their stories of holiday fun.
As the year nears its end, LeadingAge members everywhere join their residents, clients, and staff in celebrating the December holidays. We heard from a few members about the celebrations they have planned, the charitable activities they pursue, and how they work to ensure an inclusive, healthy holiday season for all:
Front Porch: Presents for children living in affordable housing communities
Jewish Home Family: Hundreds of meals delivered plus a live-streamed Chanukah candle-lighting
Front Porch, a full-continuum provider based in Glendale, CA, is rolling out its long-standing holiday tradition, Operation Snowflake. Though the organization serves primarily older adults, four of its 30 affordable housing communities are home to more than 270 families, including many with children.
Operation Snowflake delivers $50 holiday gift cards to the families in these communities, and also adds gifts for the children in one community each year. This year, about 50 children at Casa de Canoga in Canoga Park will receive gifts, according to Mary Kott, volunteer engagement manager for Front Porch.
Kott involves the site staff at each community in the program. She wants the involvement of the corporate staff and volunteers to be “silent, anonymous, and behind the scenes” to empower the parents. To start, she asks site managers to ask each family to participate, and fill out a form with “three wants, three needs, size, and age” for each child.
“After the kickoff, everyone who wants to sponsor a child will take their wish list and shop for them,” says Kott. “We have a $50-75 suggested budget, and organize the gifts by child and family. Right before the holidays [December 13 this year], the gifts are distributed to the community in big red bags with ribbons and labels, with the family name and apartment number.” The items are left unwrapped in the bag, with gift receipts included in case a return is necessary.
Overhead is absorbed by Front Porch, so all donated funds go to the program. Front Porch staff from both the Glendale (southern California) and Walnut Creek (northern) offices participate. Kott says that last year, when Front Porch affiliated with Covia, the Covia staff enthusiastically joined the program.
Bringing Meals and Holiday Celebrations to Home-Bound Community Residents
Jewish Home Family, Rockleigh, NJ, has a tradition of delivering hot meals to older adults in Bergen County for Passover, Rosh Hashanah, and Chanukah, up to 400 for each occasion. This year, according to President and CEO Carol Silver Elliott, a new wrinkle will be added. The organization will live-stream the lighting of candles on the fourth night of Chanukah, December 21, to allow people to participate from home.
“These are my favorite volunteer opportunities,” says Elliott. “We encourage [volunteers] to go into the homes and visit, and give them questions to answer on a checklist re the condition of the person. Oftentimes we have the need to refer someone for additional services.”
COVID-19 changed the routine, however. Volunteers would leave meals at the door, ring the bell and leave. A lot of the personal touch was lost due to necessary caution during the worst days of the pandemic.
“People are desperate for connection,” says Elliott. “These are isolated people, and in the last couple of years the isolation has been multiplied by 1,000. We wondered if we could take the outreach further.”
The group candle lighting helped build connections within Jewish Home Family communities, and with this year’s live-streaming, the tradition is open to anyone in the community who wants to participate. Registration to join the live-stream is free at TINYURL.COM/LightWithUs.
Celebrating Kwanzaa with Music and Food
At Forest Hills of DC, Washington, DC, staff is preparing to celebrate Kwanzaa with a traditional African luncheon on December 26. On the menu:
Starter: Coconut sweet potato soup
Entree: Baked chicken in a peanut sauce
Sides: Collard greens & jollof rice
Desserts: African coconut cake
African music will play in dining rooms and servers will be encouraged to wear traditional African clothing. A “Kwanzaa fun fact” information sheet will appear with every menu.
Even the Grinch is Welcome
“This 2022 Christmas Season feels extra special, with more need for connections with family and friends following all the COVID guidelines,” says Tammy Shorter, healthcare administrator at King’s Grant Retirement Community, Martinsville, VA. This year’s holiday festivities kicked off with two Christmas parades in early December, featuring staff dressed as Whoville characters–including the Grinch, Mrs. Grinch, Cindy Lou Who, Thing 1, Thing 2, and Max the Dog. The costumed staff handed out candy to the residents.
Shorter started the costume ball rolling when she bought a Grinch costume (she recommends buying after Halloween when costumes go on clearance). The idea caught hold with staff and eventually more costumes were in hand. Some staff even made their own.
“We’re going to get lots of use out of these because of the parades, and we’ve got parties going on for the next few Fridays,” Shorter says. Other holiday traditions include decoration of dozens of trees both inside and out, along with all the traditional holiday foods.
This year, Santa’s visit to King’s Grant will be a special one. This year’s Santa will be noted storyteller, author, and bagpiper Gale Buck, who recently moved to the Martinsville area. (Buck is noted for his Christmas tales and is a past winner of the South Carolina Liars’ Championship.)
CNA Susan Celebrates Holidays, Raises Provider’s Profile
At Pleasant View Nursing Home, Monroe, WI, “CNA Susan” is a very unusual staff member. She was born after Business Office Manager Theresa Pax suggested that Pleasant View needed a mascot.
Administrator Maria Johnson was skeptical. “I didn’t think it was a great idea at first,” says Johnson. “So she [Pax] and her team, behind the scenes, purchased the costume and did a grand reveal at one of our meetings–and she was a hit! She completely proved me wrong, and this has been a great tool for us. The team that brought CNA Susan to life has been meeting as a group and showing her off all over the county.” (Despite her popularity, the identities of the staff wearing the costume remain a closely guarded secret.)
Pleasant View assigns CNA Susan to participate in parades, local festivals, and other community events. She’s busy making public appearances during the December holiday season, but the biggest local event is Green County Cheese Days, when this town of 10,000 balloons to over 100,000 during September, according to Johnson.
“This benefits us in a couple of ways,” says Johnson. “We’re a county facility and we want to continue to have community support, and it also legitimizes the field of health care and [careers as] a CNA for young folks.”