Ashley’s day starts at the grocery store, where she picks up 30 lbs of bananas.
Back at Sunridge Gardens, an independent seniors’ living community in Langley, BC, Ashley unloads the groceries into the Tuck Shop and grabs the Wii game controllers. The women’s Wii bowling team is practicing for a tournament, Ashley is coach, cheerleader, and technology specialist all rolled into one. After bowling, she meets with her Manager, Jennifer, to plan the upcoming pancake breakfast, lemonade social and campfire singing along. In the afternoon she assists residents as they board the Bria Bus on their way to see a movie at the local theatre, then she’s off to call bingo in the lounge. She wraps her day up serving drinks and joking with the residents who are enjoying the live entertainment of social hour.
Ashley is a Recreation Assistant, she has a diploma is in Therapeutic Recreation. Like the other members of the Recreation Team at Sunridge Gardens, she is as multi-functional as a Swiss Army Knife. In a single day, any Recreation Team member could be a party-planner, fitness instructor, furniture mover, bus driver, art teacher, and bartender.
Jennifer Wasden, Recreation Manager at Sunridge Gardens, understands that daily activities in a seniors’ living residence have a great purpose. She has posted the team’s philosophy on the wall in her office: Recreation’s purpose is not to kill time but to make life; not to keep a person occupied, but to keep them refreshed; not to offer an escape from life, but to provide a discovery of life.
It’s a philosophy shared across the Recreation Teams in all four Bria Communities seniors living residences. The Waterford in Tsawwassen features independent senior living, as well as a licensed care home. Recreation Manager, Brenda Hodson, works hard to create a vibrant lifestyle for all her residents.
“We want them to stay engaged and social. It’s so easy as a senior to become reclusive—to sit in your room and watch TV and never go out,” says Brenda. “We work hard to bring joy and zest into their lives without them needing to leave the building.”
And it works. Brenda frequently has residents comment on how much life at The Waterford is like living on a cruise ship. “You bring everything to us.” they quip delightedly.
“A great recreation program meets the social, emotional, cognitive, spiritual and intellectual needs of our residents,” states Jennifer at Sunridge Gardens. “But we don’t just plan a monthly calendar to check off boxes, we ask residents what they want to do and where they want to go, and we do our best to make it happen.”
There’s a reason recreation teams take fun seriously. “Fitness programs can stave off heart-disease, ice cream socials can fight loneliness, board games can keep dementia at bay,” says Brenda, listing a few benefits of fun and games. And it’s true, the advantages of living in a community that offers easy to access social, physical, intellectual, and spiritual pursuits can lead to longevity and increased happiness.
“When seniors live at home they don’t have these opportunities at their fingertips,” Brenda says. She notes that often seniors are reliant on caregivers and family members to meet their physical, social, intellectual, and spiritual needs.
“The life of a Recreation Team member can be similar to that of a summer camp counsellor,” muses Brenda, “You get this window to engage residents and make their days awesome. I come to work thinking, ‘How can we make life fun for our residents today? How can we bring them joy?’ I love it! “
An average day as a Recreation Team member in a Bria Communities seniors’ residence requires high levels of energy, creativity, compassion, patience and humour. For Ashley, the reward is enormous, “The best part is experiencing life with our residents, learning from them and enjoying them,” she says. “I love them.”