In the News

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They’re proving you’re never too old to make a difference—or model for the camera. 

When you picture nursing homes, you might imagine a dull and stuffy vibe, but the Spiritwood Assisted Living Nursing Home in Washington is anything but. The residing senior citizens are huge movie buffs, know how to smize for the camera, and have quite the impressive collection of costumes.
In a charitable project that combines all three, they’ve turned themselves into models for a cause. Decked out from head to toe in vibrant wigs, makeup, and costumes, the fabulous group of seniors recreate iconic scenes and characters from classic movies. Village Concepts, a family company that owns the senior home, turns the photos into calendars, and every penny earned from sales goes straight to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Jennifer Angell, the community relations director at Spiritwood at Pine Lake, first came up with the idea for the photoshoot in 2018 when she spotted a senior sitting in the dining room that had an uncanny resemblance to Hollywood legend Katherine Hepburn. The celebrity doppelganger inspired her to start scouting other residents at the assisted living community.
Once the models were cast, Angell would buy all the costumes, reserve a backdrop, and set the scene. According to Angell, one photo takes a minimum of two hours to create. The photo project is open to all members of the Spiritwood Assisted Living community, including those living with Alzheimer's or dementia, who are given special time and care to take on their role. The oldest participant is a 102-year-old model returning for her second feature this year.
Angell says that Alzheimer's has always been near and dear to her heart, and as someone who’s always loved taking photos, a calendar setting seemed like the best way to contribute while incorporating something she feels confident in doing.
“We have a memory care program at Spiritwood, and so Alzheimer’s impacts us all,” says Angell. “Taking care of Alzheimer's patients is very hard work. They need a lot more funding for care and research.”
When the initial round of calendars hit shelves, Angell says the first three boxes sold out in just four days. The community sold more than 150 of their first calendars, and in conjunction with other fundraisers, earned $14,000 for the Alzheimer's Association.
To date, more than 40 residents have posed for photos with 300 calendars sold. However, the project's full impact is incalculable. In addition to their Alzheimer’s contribution, Angell says the project has affected the mood of the community as a whole. The models would even stay in their costumes and parade through the dining room to celebrate their role in the calendar after the photoshoot concluded.
“The seniors are truly movie stars now,” says Angell. “It has bonded us all in a way that is beyond words.”
Angell says they are currently planning their next photo campaign for the 2021 calendar, which will be released in October. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Angell is planning fewer "group shots" and more individual portraits to adhere to social distancing guidelines. The calendar is said to include classic recreations of pop culture icons, like Marlon Brando from The Godfather, elves from Elf, Princess Leia from Star Wars, the Star Trek crew, and even newer TV series like Stranger Things.
If you are interested in purchasing the wholesome calendar for yourself (and contributing to a very worthy cause), you can place your order here.
“For these seniors, the calendar is a symbol that, just because you are at the point in your life where you have to go to retirement living, doesn't mean you will be forgotten about or fade from memory,” says Angell. “You will still make more memories and you will still have things to contribute, just like our seniors who are making America smile right now.”
" ["post_title"]=> string(91) "These Fabulous Seniors Are Recreating Iconic Movie Posters to Raise Money for Alzheimer’s" ["post_excerpt"]=> string(0) "" ["post_status"]=> string(7) "publish" ["comment_status"]=> string(6) "closed" ["ping_status"]=> string(6) "closed" ["post_password"]=> string(0) "" ["post_name"]=> string(88) "these-fabulous-seniors-are-recreating-iconic-movie-posters-to-raise-money-for-alzheimers" ["to_ping"]=> string(0) "" ["pinged"]=> string(0) "" ["post_modified"]=> string(19) "2020-08-21 16:36:39" ["post_modified_gmt"]=> string(19) "2020-08-21 16:36:39" ["post_content_filtered"]=> string(0) "" ["post_parent"]=> int(0) ["guid"]=> string(44) "https://villageconcept.wpengine.com/?p=13399" ["menu_order"]=> int(0) ["post_type"]=> string(4) "post" ["post_mime_type"]=> string(0) "" ["comment_count"]=> string(1) "0" ["filter"]=> string(3) "raw" } [1]=> object(WP_Post)#3496 (24) { ["ID"]=> int(13374) ["post_author"]=> string(1) "2" ["post_date"]=> string(19) "2020-08-19 21:50:54" ["post_date_gmt"]=> string(19) "2020-08-19 21:50:54" ["post_content"]=> string(3321) " An assisted living home in Issaquah is helping residents have some much-needed fun during the pandemic by dressing up as Hollywood icons. Seniors at Village Concepts Spiritwood at Pine Lake have been recreating famous pictures for what Community Director Jennifer Angell calls their “Hollywood Seniors Calendar.” Angell takes all the photos and is in charge of casting. “I go through the dining room, and I kind of look at all the residents, examine them, and see who best fits the character I’m thinking I want to do,” she said. “They don’t approach me directly,” she explained, laughing. “What they do is, they go get their hair done at the hair salon and they let our hairdresser Jan know, who lets me know, ‘Jennifer, you know what, so and so would really like to be in the calendar.’ And then I go to them and invite them.” In the three years since the calendar started, seniors have posed as a wide range of Hollywood icons, decked out in full costume and makeup. “We had the Blues Brothers, which was, I thought, phenomenal, … I had a Marilyn Monroe that was just, there was something about it,” Angell recalled. “… My personal favorite, I did Cabaret — it was Liza Minnelli. And I just thought she came out really beautiful too.” Angell says the calendar isn’t just for fun, it’s also for a good cause. “It was something that I came up with to earn money for the Alzheimer’s Association,” she said. “I love taking pictures, so I was trying to think of something to incorporate that and came up with the calendar, and we started selling them.” The calendars sell for $41 each, including shipping, and all the money goes to the Alzheimer’s Association. As for the residents, after dressing up like celebrities, they’re starting to become them. They’re getting attention from national news outlets, including CNN and Access Hollywood. We’re also told they might make an appearance on the Kelly Clarkson Show soon. So far, the calendars have raised more than $16,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association. Angell says they’ve also raised a lot of spirits around the retirement home. “They felt like they were movie stars for the day,” she said. “They would keep their costumes on, and I would parade them through the dining room among their peers, and everybody would clap and they’d get applause.” The 2021 calendar photo shoot wrapped this summer, and the calendar comes out in October. It includes recreations from photos of stars like Willie Nelson and Sonny and Cher, to name a few. If you’d like to buy one, visit the Facebook page for Village Concepts Retirement Communities." ["post_title"]=> string(83) "Seniors in Issaquah raise money for Alzheimer’s by dressing up as Hollywood stars" ["post_excerpt"]=> string(0) "" ["post_status"]=> string(7) "publish" ["comment_status"]=> string(6) "closed" ["ping_status"]=> string(6) "closed" ["post_password"]=> string(0) "" ["post_name"]=> string(80) "seniors-in-issaquah-raise-money-for-alzheimers-by-dressing-up-as-hollywood-stars" ["to_ping"]=> string(0) "" ["pinged"]=> string(0) "" ["post_modified"]=> string(19) "2020-08-19 22:30:26" ["post_modified_gmt"]=> string(19) "2020-08-19 22:30:26" ["post_content_filtered"]=> string(0) "" ["post_parent"]=> int(0) ["guid"]=> string(44) "https://villageconcept.wpengine.com/?p=13374" ["menu_order"]=> int(0) ["post_type"]=> string(4) "post" ["post_mime_type"]=> string(0) "" ["comment_count"]=> string(1) "0" ["filter"]=> string(3) "raw" } [2]=> object(WP_Post)#3495 (24) { ["ID"]=> int(13344) ["post_author"]=> string(1) "2" ["post_date"]=> string(19) "2020-08-13 21:27:41" ["post_date_gmt"]=> string(19) "2020-08-13 21:27:41" ["post_content"]=> string(7427) "[caption id="attachment_13349" align="aligncenter" width="780"] Some of the calendar models pose as the members of the "Star Trek" cast.[/caption] (CNN)With each flash of the camera, these beautiful people "smize" with their eyes and work their best angles. Decked out in colorful wigs, makeup and costumes, the mature models are recreating iconic movie scenes and characters for their annual calendar. The glitzy group are all seniors from a Washington state assisted living community, and proceeds from sales of the calendar go to the Alzheimer's Association. "All of the money we raise goes to them. We really believe in it. We deal with it (Alzheimer's disease) here every day," Marketing and Community Relations Director Jennifer Angell said. "It's very close to our hearts." [caption id="attachment_13350" align="aligncenter" width="780"] Proceeds from the community's calendar sales go toward Alzheimer's research.[/caption] Angell, an amateur photographer whose last name is pronounced "angel," came up with the idea to transform everyday grandmas and grandpas into iconic entertainers after noticing an uncanny resemblance between one of her seniors and Hollywood legend Katherine Hepburn. She took the lookalike's photo and started casting other residents at the Village Concepts Communities -- Spiritwood at Pine Lake facility. "I thought, 'well, let's do all of them. I'll start buying the costumes,' and we put them into a calendar situation," Angell told CNN. When the first box of calendars hit the shelves three years ago, Angell says the community sold more than 150. "They were going really quick and I had to keep ordering and ordering," she exclaimed. "The seniors were so proud."

All seniors welcome

The photo project is open to all members of the Spiritwood Assisted Living community including those in memory care. Members living with Alzheimer's or dementia get special time and care to take on their role. On average, Angell said, each photo requires a minimum of two hours. "They may not remember your name, but if you interact with them enough and show constant friendship, they trust you and a huge bond is created." Angell said each senior gets involved in the creative process to the best of their ability. Production planning usually begins with Angell dropping by one of the seniors' social hubs -- the dining room. There, Angell and her supervisor can use their creative eyes to scout fresh faces for new roles. [caption id="attachment_13351" align="aligncenter" width="780"] Staff and residents have made and sold "Hollywood Senior" calendars for three years.[/caption] "We actually kind of have a roundtable and talk about what we're going to do. They (the residents) have a big voice in everything too." After the photo shoots, the seniors parade through the dining room in full costume to celebrate their role in the calendar. "They feel like they're special," said Angell. [caption id="attachment_13352" align="aligncenter" width="780"] Best friends Kip Steele, right, and Jack Guptil recreate Hollywood's iconic Blues Brothers.[/caption]

From best friends to Blues Brothers

Kip Steele and his best friend Jack Guptil posed together as the Blues Brothers. Prior to retirement, Steele was a businessman and and traveled to more than 70 countries. In his spare time, he loved to play hockey and go dancing. "I am a lover of life," he said. So, when Angell pulled out the costumes, the grandfather of four was ready for his close-up. For Steele, who now uses a wheelchair, his portrait holds a deeper meaning beyond his appearance in the calendar. It is a creative chance to express his desire to keep living. "That sort of gave me a lift spiritually," he said. After their photo shoot, Kip and Jack -- still clad as the Blues Brothers -- made their lunchroom rounds, egged on by applause, cheers and good-natured jeers. For Steele, his community is a loving family. "We got a lot of applause, smiles and laughter. I think that was the essence of doing the whole thing anyway," he said. [caption id="attachment_13353" align="aligncenter" width="780"] After their photo shoots, the models parade around their assisted living community in full costume.[/caption]

Confidence at any age

Steele said his community gives him the confidence to try new things, like popping wheelies over curbs. He also loves art class. Steele is clear though; his big goal is to get out of the wheelchair and walk on his own. But in the meantime, he's working on a final goal. "You know what the last thing on my bucket list is?" he asked with a laugh. "Don't kick it." [caption id="attachment_13354" align="aligncenter" width="780"] To date, more than 40 residents have posed for photos.[/caption] While the community's calendar project and other fundraisers yielded $14,000 for the Alzheimer's Association, the project's full value for the residents is immeasurable. "As seniors, they lose their feeling of importance sometimes," said Angell. "They're so willing to help me and they're so excited about being in the spotlight." To date more than 40 residents have posed for photos with 300 calendars sold. The oldest participant is a thriving 102-year-old model returning for her second feature this year. Angell and her supervisor are planning their next photo campaign which will be release in October. [caption id="attachment_13355" align="aligncenter" width="780"] The next calendar will debut this fall.[/caption] Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Angell is planning less "group shots" and more individual portraits to follow social-distancing guidelines. She hopes the calendar will include classic recreations of Willie Nelson, Eleanor Roosevelt, Sonny and Cher and Winston Churchill. Although photography in a pandemic poses unique challenges for her mature models, Angell and team are determined to do whatever it takes to make sure her seniors shine -- and do so safely. "I feel like they're my family. There isn't anything I wouldn't do for them."" ["post_title"]=> string(83) "These seniors are posing as Hollywood stars to raise money for Alzheimer's research" ["post_excerpt"]=> string(0) "" ["post_status"]=> string(7) "publish" ["comment_status"]=> string(6) "closed" ["ping_status"]=> string(6) "closed" ["post_password"]=> string(0) "" ["post_name"]=> string(82) "these-seniors-are-posing-as-hollywood-stars-to-raise-money-for-alzheimers-research" ["to_ping"]=> string(0) "" ["pinged"]=> string(0) "" ["post_modified"]=> string(19) "2020-08-13 21:35:18" ["post_modified_gmt"]=> string(19) "2020-08-13 21:35:18" ["post_content_filtered"]=> string(0) "" ["post_parent"]=> int(0) ["guid"]=> string(44) "https://villageconcept.wpengine.com/?p=13344" ["menu_order"]=> int(0) ["post_type"]=> string(4) "post" ["post_mime_type"]=> string(0) "" ["comment_count"]=> string(1) "0" ["filter"]=> string(3) "raw" } [3]=> object(WP_Post)#3490 (24) { ["ID"]=> int(13331) ["post_author"]=> string(1) "2" ["post_date"]=> string(19) "2020-08-10 22:46:19" ["post_date_gmt"]=> string(19) "2020-08-10 22:46:19" ["post_content"]=> string(4078) "[caption id="attachment_13332" align="aligncenter" width="1400"] Tom, is that you? Here’s one senior with a need for speed… and an apparent love of Top Gun.[/caption] These seniors have been getting fancy with makeup and lights since long before COVID-19 spurred us all to creativity. In genius photoshoots, residents at the Spiritwood Assisted Living in Washington State have been recreating iconic posters from classic movies for two years now. And the results are guaranteed to put a smile on your face. The idea to transform seniors into Hollywood stars came to Jennifer Angell in 2018. She’s the community relations director at ‘Spiritwood at Pine Lake’. Her mission? To combine unique, enjoyable activities for the residents with something purposeful—like raising money for others. Jennifer struck gold when she came up with an idea for a ‘film star’ calendar. “For two years we have dressed up the seniors as Hollywood movie stars and Village Concepts, a family company that owns the senior home, produces the calendars for us,” she told GNN. “I photograph each senior after doing makeup, hair and costume. The best part is we sell each calendar and every penny earned goes to the Alzheimer’s Association.” “For the first calendar in 2019, the whole process took about four months,” says Jennifer. “I would do just one photo at a time, and when it was ready, I’d present it to the community at lunchtime. People passed the photo around and the featured resident would dress up in costume and parade around the lunchroom. It was so much fun for everyone.” [caption id="attachment_13336" align="aligncenter" width="1400"] Fedoras, check. Sunglasses, check. Two ‘somebodies to love’, check.[/caption] Jack Guptil, 83, who starred in the “Blues Brothers” photoshoot told the Issaquah Reporter in 2018, “When asked by Jennifer to be a part of the calendar, I didn’t want to be bothered, but when I saw how much fun people were having being someone else, I said that’s me—Elwood from the Blues Brothers.” The first three boxes sold out in just four days. “Resident families just loved it and swooped them right up,” says Jennifer. After the Alzheimer’s Association posted them for sale on their blog in 2018 they raised around $14,000. Jennifer gave GNN the inside scoop about the theme for the 2021 calendar. It will be ‘Iconic Figures’ including pop culture icons like Sonny and Cher, Willie Nelson, and Andy Warhol, alongside historical notables like Winston Churchill and Eleanor Roosevelt. “The annual resident calendars bring so much joy to not only the residents but their families,” says Spiritwood’s Executive Director Michelle Strazis. “They feel good about themselves participating in something that makes them feel so special and to be contributing by helping raise money for such a worthy cause.” Which iconic Hollywood image is your favorite? Click here to see them and share the ones you love the most. Purchase their calendars the old-fashioned way—by sending a check for $41, and choose between the 2020 or 2021 calendar. The info is on their Facebook page, or call Jennifer at (425) 313-9100." ["post_title"]=> string(121) "Seniors Recreate Iconic Movie Posters For Calendar That’s Raising Thousands For Alzheimer’s – And They’re Amazing" ["post_excerpt"]=> string(0) "" ["post_status"]=> string(7) "publish" ["comment_status"]=> string(6) "closed" ["ping_status"]=> string(6) "closed" ["post_password"]=> string(0) "" ["post_name"]=> string(108) "seniors-recreate-iconic-movie-posters-for-calendar-thats-raising-thousands-for-alzheimers-and-theyre-amazing" ["to_ping"]=> string(0) "" ["pinged"]=> string(0) "" ["post_modified"]=> string(19) "2020-08-13 20:49:30" ["post_modified_gmt"]=> string(19) "2020-08-13 20:49:30" ["post_content_filtered"]=> string(0) "" ["post_parent"]=> int(0) ["guid"]=> string(44) "https://villageconcept.wpengine.com/?p=13331" ["menu_order"]=> int(0) ["post_type"]=> string(4) "post" ["post_mime_type"]=> string(0) "" ["comment_count"]=> string(1) "0" ["filter"]=> string(3) "raw" } [4]=> object(WP_Post)#3491 (24) { ["ID"]=> int(13293) ["post_author"]=> string(1) "2" ["post_date"]=> string(19) "2020-07-27 18:43:26" ["post_date_gmt"]=> string(19) "2020-07-27 18:43:26" ["post_content"]=> string(3626) "[caption id="attachment_13300" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Dining director Gina and David with the Kentucky Derby party cart[/caption] As the Program Director at Country Meadow Village, a local retirement community that offers both independent and assisted living, I'm known as the "fun guy", planning all the parties, picnics, and events that take place. I also schedule musicians, kids groups and guest speakers to come and entertain. I decorate for all major holidays and the seasons of the year making our community home for all our residents. COVID-19 CHANGED IT ALL! In an instant, we modified everything we did from entertainment and activities to serving breakfast, lunch and dinner to our residents in their rooms. We began doing just that on March 12 (as of this writing we are serving again in the dining room with 50% capacity). As for the fun and entertainment part of the equation, we decorated our party cart and loaded it with green treats for St. Patrick's Day and then went door to door offering a rousing "Top of the Morning" to welcome residents. We continue to distribute word games and crossword puzzles along with flyers about what is going on in the community. [caption id="attachment_13295" align="alignright" width="225"] Penpal participant Mabel holding picture of pal Jade holding picture of Mabel holding picture of Jade and her brother[/caption] One of the best things that has happened is the #CoronaWriteUs Project Pen Pal Program. I received an email about starting a pen pal program between kids and seniors, and I knew with the help of Ruth Richardson, a Sedro-Woolley School District team member, we'd be able to get it done, and we have. The letters and beautiful artwork we have received from the kids is inspiring. Our residents in turn, have written amazing letters back to their pals relating personal stories from their past. We were mentioned in a New York Times article about pen pals during the pandemic. Quoting directly: "In March, a retirement community in Sedro-Woolley, Wash, put out a call on social media for 'letters from children' in an effort to stay connected to our community and help parents combat boredom with their little ones at home." The 'letters from children' linked directly to the pen pal program on our Village Concepts corporate website. Vince Richardson, a reporter for the Skagit Valley Herald, wrote a front-page article about it that was picked up by two newspapers we know about in eastern Washington. A highlight is featured on the front of this publication. Adam Wagenbach, his mom Indira and sister Katie brought balloons for his pen pal David Weaver on his 97th birthday! CMV team members Megan got festive birthday greetings too because she was born on the same day 80 years after David. Our community was asked to participate in a University of Washington study on the effects of isolation with seniors amid COVID-19. Resident Care Director Caroline David and I worked closely with the UW team offering insight during ZOOM interviews and yes, I was decked out in my WSU gear! As we move to get back to normal, we are grateful for the support of our resident families and friends who uplift us every day as we work to create a village that feels like family." ["post_title"]=> string(47) "Country Meadow Village Develops Pen Pal Program" ["post_excerpt"]=> string(0) "" ["post_status"]=> string(7) "publish" ["comment_status"]=> string(6) "closed" ["ping_status"]=> string(6) "closed" ["post_password"]=> string(0) "" ["post_name"]=> string(47) "country-meadow-village-develops-pen-pal-program" ["to_ping"]=> string(0) "" ["pinged"]=> string(0) "" ["post_modified"]=> string(19) "2020-07-27 21:14:10" ["post_modified_gmt"]=> string(19) "2020-07-27 21:14:10" ["post_content_filtered"]=> string(0) "" ["post_parent"]=> int(0) ["guid"]=> string(44) "https://villageconcept.wpengine.com/?p=13293" ["menu_order"]=> int(0) ["post_type"]=> string(4) "post" ["post_mime_type"]=> string(0) "" ["comment_count"]=> string(1) "0" ["filter"]=> string(3) "raw" } [5]=> object(WP_Post)#3505 (24) { ["ID"]=> int(13357) ["post_author"]=> string(1) "2" ["post_date"]=> string(19) "2020-06-13 23:14:08" ["post_date_gmt"]=> string(19) "2020-06-13 23:14:08" ["post_content"]=> string(1396) " We launched our Village Concepts Pen Pal Program at the start of Washington's "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" orders as a way to help our residents stay connected while in quarantine. We first sent out a call to action via Facebook to all of our local communities with one simple request: write us! With families facing unexpected closures of schools, we especially encouraged kids at home to send letters to our seniors. The response was epic! The program gained local and even national media coverage. Our original Facebook post was referenced in The New York Times and Better Homes & Gardens covered the story in their online publication. If you are interested in sending a pen pal letter, click here to search for one of our Village Concepts locations and address your letter c/o Pen Pal Program. Upon receipt, our staff will distribute the letter to one of our participating residents." ["post_title"]=> string(15) "Pen Pal Program" ["post_excerpt"]=> string(0) "" ["post_status"]=> string(7) "publish" ["comment_status"]=> string(6) "closed" ["ping_status"]=> string(6) "closed" ["post_password"]=> string(0) "" ["post_name"]=> string(15) "pen-pal-program" ["to_ping"]=> string(0) "" ["pinged"]=> string(0) "" ["post_modified"]=> string(19) "2020-08-14 17:27:27" ["post_modified_gmt"]=> string(19) "2020-08-14 17:27:27" ["post_content_filtered"]=> string(0) "" ["post_parent"]=> int(0) ["guid"]=> string(44) "https://villageconcept.wpengine.com/?p=13357" ["menu_order"]=> int(0) ["post_type"]=> string(4) "post" ["post_mime_type"]=> string(0) "" ["comment_count"]=> string(1) "0" ["filter"]=> string(3) "raw" } [6]=> object(WP_Post)#3503 (24) { ["ID"]=> int(13154) ["post_author"]=> string(1) "2" ["post_date"]=> string(19) "2020-04-20 17:02:59" ["post_date_gmt"]=> string(19) "2020-04-20 17:02:59" ["post_content"]=> string(8188) "Step aside, social media. Handwritten notes are having a moment to brighten the day for seniors, the immunocompromised, and others in solo isolation during the coronavirus pandemic.  Just because we’re social distancing doesn’t mean we need to practice emotional distancing, too. In fact, it’s more important than ever for those who need to quarantine as much as possible to still feel the love. Research proves that even in normal times (and now is far from normal), one in four people feel lonely on a regular basis. And loneliness may be as detrimental for your health as smoking or obesity, scientists have found. To stay connected while we #stayhome, residential facilities for seniors and individuals with mental disabilities have launched pen pal programs. Many are in partnership with school-age kids who could use a little extra writing practice—and a few more free time activities since their extracurriculars have been put on hold. [caption id="attachment_13155" align="aligncenter" width="1983"] JGI, TOM GRILL/GETTY IMAGES[/caption] “We decided to create our Village Concepts Pen Pal Program as soon as we knew we needed to social distance and the schools were out,” says Danie Monaghan, director of operations at Village Concepts senior community in Auburn, Washington. “I saw the immediate impact on both my small children and the residents that we serve. From there it was easy to find both children and seniors who wanted to participate.” The pen pal program has become more important than Monaghan or any of her colleagues could imagine. (By the way, mail is highly unlikely to spread the virus, but to be safe, it may be best for young, healthy individuals to open the letters, wash hands, then pass them along to any seniors or immunocompromised people.) “We have residents that are in isolation and they have a connection to the outside world again. They wait for the letters and cards from the children and they sit in a socially-distant circle and open them together,” she says. Maelyn Benedict, one of the Village Concepts student pen pal participants to her senior buddy: “I’m sorry that I can’t come see you. I pray that when the coronavirus goes away, families can get back together." In other letters, pen pals exchange drawings, cookie recipes, photos, and more, and connect about everything from 18-wheeler trucks to pets to favorite foods. “I felt loved and wanted. It’s important for everyone to feel those two things in life," says Donna Hecker, one of the Village Concepts residents. Similar programs are popping up everywhere from Australia and Europe to Madison, Connecticut, and Austin, Texas. “We launched our pen pal program in mid-March and continue matching our seniors with pen pals each day,” says Austin Hall, director of senior services for the town of Madison, Connecticut. “If seniors live alone, it’s an extremely lonely time since they can’t see their friends or family in the flesh right now. Loneliness is a horrible feeling. Having a pen pal gives a senior a way to feel needed, checked in on, and something to look forward to.”  The seniors aren’t the only ones who benefit, Hall says. The kids learn compassion from their sage pals and get a peek into the past, while the seniors score some much-needed companionship.
Having a pen pal gives a senior a way to feel needed, checked in on, and something to look forward to. - AUSTIN HALL
At Marbridge, a residence for 265 individuals with a range of cognitive disabilities in South Austin, Texas, the campus closed to visitors, families, and volunteers on March 12. That day, the staff worked on enlisting their current volunteers and anyone else willing to become snail mail buddies for their residents. “It gives our residents a social outlet in a way that feels safe,” says Becca McPherson, vice president of development at Marbridge. Even prior to the pandemic, Marbridge residents endured years of isolation due to their cognitive challenges. Once they moved to the facility, though, “life opened up in ways that many families couldn’t imagine for their loved ones. New friendships are formed, independent living skills are developed through group outings, university athletic events, and Special Olympics sports,” McPherson says. That all changed when off-campus activities came to a halt in March, and visitors were restricted. “Pen pals provide some insight into what others are going through, some humor relief through jokes, and ensure that social isolation doesn’t happen," McPherson adds. "I know that the people writing to us to become pen pals continue saying how grateful they are to have this outlet for themselves, but their willingness to be a part of this program is therapeutic on all ends." Even after the general public starts easing back into more usual activities, most of those living in these facilities will be among the last to return to “normal” due to their medical vulnerabilities. “Letting our residents know how much they are thought of and that the world continues to care for their well-being will make all the difference,” McPherson says.

How You Can Help

There’s more than enough stamps and cute cards for all to get involved. Contact your local residential facilities, or here’s how you can join the efforts mentioned above. You don’t even need a stamp or pen to take part in the #CareNotCOVID movement, launched by the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living. It allows you to record a video message to send support to someone in an assisted living residence or nursing home. Marbridge Send letters to residents or notes of encouragement to the staff at: Marbridge Foundation P.O. Box 2310 Bliss Spillar Road Manchaca, Texas 78652 Village Concepts Send letters to the home office to have them sent out to the community members: Village Concepts 2020 A Street SE, Suite 101 Auburn, Washington 98002 Madison Senior Pen Pal Program Email noblinh@madisonct.org to get your pen pal match." ["post_title"]=> string(79) "Become a Pen Pal to Help Seniors Combat Loneliness: Here’s How to Get Started" ["post_excerpt"]=> string(0) "" ["post_status"]=> string(7) "publish" ["comment_status"]=> string(6) "closed" ["ping_status"]=> string(6) "closed" ["post_password"]=> string(0) "" ["post_name"]=> string(75) "become-a-pen-pal-to-help-seniors-combat-loneliness-heres-how-to-get-started" ["to_ping"]=> string(0) "" ["pinged"]=> string(0) "" ["post_modified"]=> string(19) "2021-01-29 16:09:33" ["post_modified_gmt"]=> string(19) "2021-01-29 16:09:33" ["post_content_filtered"]=> string(0) "" ["post_parent"]=> int(0) ["guid"]=> string(44) "https://villageconcept.wpengine.com/?p=13154" ["menu_order"]=> int(0) ["post_type"]=> string(4) "post" ["post_mime_type"]=> string(0) "" ["comment_count"]=> string(1) "0" ["filter"]=> string(3) "raw" } [7]=> object(WP_Post)#3502 (24) { ["ID"]=> int(13139) ["post_author"]=> string(1) "2" ["post_date"]=> string(19) "2020-04-07 18:22:42" ["post_date_gmt"]=> string(19) "2020-04-07 18:22:42" ["post_content"]=> string(2844) "[caption id="attachment_13140" align="aligncenter" width="1700"] Woodland Village is located at 2100 SW Woodland Circle in Chehalis.
Jared Wenzelburger / jwenzelburger@chronline.com[/caption] Programs: Residents Participate in Pen-Pal Program and Socially-Distanced Bingo Residents of assisted living facilities and nursing homes are feeling the full impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak as they are some of the most at-risk members of the population. Village Concepts of Chehalis, which houses just under 100 seniors, is taking several precautions to keep their residents safe, but still connected. “It’s definitely not our normal schedule. We are in quarantine, so all of our residents are staying in their apartments and in their homes and we are serving them from there,” said Village Concepts Director of Operations Danie Monaghan. Gov. Jay Inslee placed limitations on visitors to assisted living facilities and Monaghan said they are adhering to his guidelines and allowing “window visits” with the residents’ friends and family. “We help coordinate a first-floor window and families can sit there so they can still see each other and talk that way,” Monaghan said. Village Concepts has a pen-pal program that allows kids who are out of school right now to write letters to their local seniors and the seniors get to write back. Monaghan said that the pen-pal program helps a lot with keeping their residents engaged and in high spirits. “The only caveat is end-of-life care and the governor has made an adjustment for end-of-life care. If somebody is on hospice and it looks as though passing away is imminent — not from COVID-19 but from anything — then of course family and hospice nurses are all allowed to be there as long as they need to be,” said Monaghan. Monaghan said they do a happy hour and bring a cart door-to-door and try to incorporate as much social interaction in the senior’s day as they can. “We are keeping in mind the social distancing thing so if we do bingo we have everybody come to a little table at their door and we sit at the end of the hallway calling out numbers. There is still interaction,” Monaghan. When the COVID-19 outbreak began, staff ordered enough supplies and they have not run out of anything yet and said that family members that may have a couple of extra bottles of hand sanitizer have been donating supplies when they can. Village Concept’s staff have gotten used to the extra cleanings, Monaghan said. “We are keeping everybody in high spirits and yeah, it’s an inconvenience but it’s more important to keep everyone safe,” said Monaghan." 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Anyone can donate a bouquet for $15. On Tuesday, bouquets were delivered to Birchview Memory Care and Country Meadow Village — both in Sedro-Woolley — and to the Bellevue Fire Department. Last week, 75 bouquets went to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island for military families whose loved ones had their deployments extended. “People love knowing that someone else is thinking about them, and nothing says that more than fresh-picked flowers,” said Andrew Miller, co-owner of Tulip Town. Now that Tulip Town has closed its fields to visitors, the donations will bring in income to help keep employees at the farm working, Miller said. He said Tulip Town is working with a company to develop a virtual reality app to allow people at home to experience the tulips. Miller said with the recent cold weather, the tulips are still a week to 10 days away from full bloom. He said the plan is to film video during full bloom and make the content available online." 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They’re proving you’re never too old to make a difference—or model for the camera. 

When you picture nursing homes, you might imagine a dull and stuffy vibe, but the Spiritwood Assisted Living Nursing Home in Washington is anything but. The residing senior citizens are huge movie buffs, know how to smize for the camera, and have quite the impressive collection of costumes.
In a charitable project that combines all three, they’ve turned themselves into models for a cause. Decked out from head to toe in vibrant wigs, makeup, and costumes, the fabulous group of seniors recreate iconic scenes and characters from classic movies. Village Concepts, a family company that owns the senior home, turns the photos into calendars, and every penny earned from sales goes straight to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Jennifer Angell, the community relations director at Spiritwood at Pine Lake, first came up with the idea for the photoshoot in 2018 when she spotted a senior sitting in the dining room that had an uncanny resemblance to Hollywood legend Katherine Hepburn. The celebrity doppelganger inspired her to start scouting other residents at the assisted living community.
Once the models were cast, Angell would buy all the costumes, reserve a backdrop, and set the scene. According to Angell, one photo takes a minimum of two hours to create. The photo project is open to all members of the Spiritwood Assisted Living community, including those living with Alzheimer's or dementia, who are given special time and care to take on their role. The oldest participant is a 102-year-old model returning for her second feature this year.
Angell says that Alzheimer's has always been near and dear to her heart, and as someone who’s always loved taking photos, a calendar setting seemed like the best way to contribute while incorporating something she feels confident in doing.
“We have a memory care program at Spiritwood, and so Alzheimer’s impacts us all,” says Angell. “Taking care of Alzheimer's patients is very hard work. They need a lot more funding for care and research.”
When the initial round of calendars hit shelves, Angell says the first three boxes sold out in just four days. The community sold more than 150 of their first calendars, and in conjunction with other fundraisers, earned $14,000 for the Alzheimer's Association.
To date, more than 40 residents have posed for photos with 300 calendars sold. However, the project's full impact is incalculable. In addition to their Alzheimer’s contribution, Angell says the project has affected the mood of the community as a whole. The models would even stay in their costumes and parade through the dining room to celebrate their role in the calendar after the photoshoot concluded.
“The seniors are truly movie stars now,” says Angell. “It has bonded us all in a way that is beyond words.”
Angell says they are currently planning their next photo campaign for the 2021 calendar, which will be released in October. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Angell is planning fewer "group shots" and more individual portraits to adhere to social distancing guidelines. The calendar is said to include classic recreations of pop culture icons, like Marlon Brando from The Godfather, elves from Elf, Princess Leia from Star Wars, the Star Trek crew, and even newer TV series like Stranger Things.
If you are interested in purchasing the wholesome calendar for yourself (and contributing to a very worthy cause), you can place your order here.
“For these seniors, the calendar is a symbol that, just because you are at the point in your life where you have to go to retirement living, doesn't mean you will be forgotten about or fade from memory,” says Angell. “You will still make more memories and you will still have things to contribute, just like our seniors who are making America smile right now.”
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