When Barbara Stevenson first took the role of Social Service Coordinator at Bethel Greencastle North and South communities in Kansas City, Missouri, she hadn’t previously worked with seniors, but she had a heart (and resume) centered on serving those in need.
Learn about her 20-year journey working at Embrace Living Communities as she reflects on the communities she’s watched changed, what she’s learned from residents, and what she’s looking forward to most about her upcoming retirement.
How did you first come to be a part of Embrace Living Communities? How long ago was that?
It was in 1999. Back then, my husband was putting in cabinetry for the building and he knew the then-manager at the building. He told my husband that they were looking to hire a service coordinator, and my husband told him I was looking for a job. At the time, I was working for a battered women’s shelter, so I got my resume together and brought it over to the manager. He said they weren’t quite ready to hire yet, and a whole year later, he called to ask if I was still interested. I interviewed and ended up taking the job.
Have you always worked with seniors? If not, how was the adjustment?
I really hadn’t worked specifically with seniors before. I worked for the state social services doing things like Medicaid cases, and I had been working with child abuse and neglect investigations for 14 years. Basically, I just had to learn all about seniors, which was great because I learned all about Medicare and the programs that benefit them. In the first couple of years, I went to different seminars to learn and the rest I just learned on the job.
What have you learned from working with older adults?
I think the big thing is that age is so very relative. We have a couple of folks here and their 90s that are spry, active and alert, but there are also residents in their 60s that are struggling. So I’ve learned that how fast we age, and how we deal with it is an individual thing. One of the most interesting things is that it’s just a number.
What does your day-to-day look like as the Social Service Coordinator?
Some days I’ll see hardly anyone, while other days it’s like they’re taking a number at the door. It’s very different throughout the year, and our programs are open, so it varies. Generally, I’ll see residents as they come, while keeping up with the paperwork, answering phones and coordinating many events or informational programs. It’s different from day to day and I never know if it’s going to be a super busy day or a totally slow day.
Tell me about the Bethel Greencastle North and South communities. What do the residents like to do there, how do those communities spend time together?
Our community is a suburban one. We have a little strip mall across the street and folks like to go over there to get some groceries and shop at the Dollar Store, even if they’re in wheelchairs. I’ve found it very interesting how much the demographics of our population have changed since I started 20 years ago. Back then, it was a whole building full of white, middle-class ladies that go to church, and there were very few men. Now have a much more multicultural population with more ethnic diversity.
Our building is full of very nice people. There are two different buildings and though they socialize among each other, the socialize differently. The north building does more socializing in their community room, which is is a place for social activity. The south building is more likely to gather on the patio or in somebody’s apartment. Overall both buildings enjoy a potluck meal once a month and love playing bingo. Everyone is pretty welcoming to new residents and want to show them around and see if they want to get involved.
Sometimes it can be hard to get seniors engaged. What do you and staff do to encourage more participation?
Participation in informational programs is limited. The seniors may express interest, but may not show up and there are always reasons for that, whether they have other things to do, or have plans with family, or have doctors appointments. I always tell people coming in that it’s really ideal for retirees because the social possibilities are there when you want them, but if you choose to stay to yourself, you can do that too. I’ve noticed that the residents who choose not to participate are not necessarily isolating themselves, they have outside interests that they get involved in, so they’re not hiding in their apartments the entire time. And having been here for 20 years, I’ve noticed that the engagement will shift depending on the new personalities coming in.
What is the value of creating social relationships among older adults?
It’s really necessary for mental health to at least have some opportunities to interact with other people. How much interaction you want is a very individual thing, but I know people do appreciate having a neighbor, or a friend they can interact with. I think it’s very important to have outlets for that available.
You’ve spent a significant amount of your working life at Embrace Living Communities. How has that time here affected you?
It’s just been a very pleasant working environment overall. I get to go to work and help nice people – you can’t beat that. It’s been personally rewarding to be here and be helpful. When I was first looking for a job, what I wanted was to have my own office space where people could come in and I would help them, but I had no idea what population that was, how I could help them, and how I was going to get paid to do that. And Embrace Living Communities was just really ideal. They offered exactly what I was looking for. They provided me with a nice office space. They gave me the senior population, and I get to find out ways to help them. It’s just been really rewarding to have a positive impact on people.
Now that your retirement date is right around the corner, what are some of your favorite memories with the community you love to reminisce about?
There are just so many from over the years; it’s really hard to pick out any one thing. Years ago a group of us went out to Powell Gardens, and that’s really fun. The logistics were hard because it’s tricky to get transportation and find enough people that are healthy enough to make the trip, but it was really fun. For the last two years, the staff has done a picnic for residents in August. We provide and cook hot dogs and hamburgers and try to get families to come out and interact. It has gone really well and has been lots of fun for everybody.
What are you most excited about doing in your retirement?
The first thing is not having to get up in the mornings – I’m not a morning person! But mostly I look forward to being able to get my house, where I’ve lived for 30 years, in order. I plan to spend more time with my grandchildren, and hopefully, I’ll have a few more grandchildren. Overall, I look forward to having more time to myself and being able to do what I want to do.
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