V!VA’s Great People: Alison, Lifestyles Manager
Published on January 17, 2020
Activity Professionals Week is January 19th – 25th.
At V!VA Retirement Communities, we count on our amazing group of activity professionals, including Lifestyles Managers and Lifestyles Assistants, to deliver our dynamic and purpose-driven V!VAlife program, including a wide range of intellectual, physical, spiritual and social activities for our Community Members. To celebrate these great Team Members, we sat down with one of V!VA’s longest-serving Lifestyles Managers, Alison Lunn at Waterside Retirement Community in Carleton Place, Ontario, to learn more about her role in retirement living.
You’ve been at this for a while, Alison. Tell us a bit about how you became an activity professional?
I’ve been working at Waterside for just shy of 11 years as the Lifestyles Manger. Prior to that I was working in community support services, funding, recreational programming for a diners’ club luncheon program for seniors living in their own home. My job there was trying to get them out and integrated into the community, and coordinating volunteers. It was a lot of fun; I was doing a lot of community outreach in the Ottawa area. Prior to that, I was in a day program for stroke survivors, providing a respite program to caregivers, and then running day programs. So, back then, retirement communities were a new thing for me . I was now working in the retirement home with the seniors as opposed to going out and working with them in the community.
That must have been quite a change. How did you end up becoming Waterside’s Lifestyles Manager?
All of a sudden, Carleton Place had this wonderful retirement home being built right where I lived and I was tired of commuting back and forth to the city. I was tired of being on the road. I wanted to be closer to my kids – they were really young then: just two, four and six years old. So, when the opportunity came, I applied.
I was very excited when I got the job, but it was a big shift. I had been doing community support outreach for 11 years, where I was encouraging people to stay in their own homes, and then I shifted to “actually, you should be living in a retirement home”. But I’m really happy I made the change – because I see the benefits, especially for people who are living in their own home and are isolated. Here in a retirement community – there’s always somebody here, even at five o’clock in the morning, if you need somebody to talk to, there’s somebody here. And throughout the day, it is so much more enjoyable and fulfilling to be surrounded by neighbours and friends than being home alone.
Wow, so you’ve been working with older adults for going on 23 years! Why do you love what you do?
I just have a real passion for seniors. I’m not sure how it happened. I was originally in school for nursing and that just wasn’t working out for me. I started getting more involved with the recreational programming, and I just fell in love with gerontology, which then led into recreation. I’ve always been a very active person and I’ve just been drawn to seniors. I love what I learn from them. They have so much knowledge. I could sit and talk with our Community Members for hours. I’m not sure what it is, but I feel like this career chose me.
Our Community Members are so inspiring. There’s one gentleman who is 93 years old and walked a 10K together with me two years ago. And he was faster than me! I’m just so inspired, and that’s what drives me. It brings me back every day.
Even the hard days, I still love this place, because I’m always learning something. It’s truly a family. Even my kids have benefited; they’ve grown up here. They were two, four, and six years old when I first started, so the Community Members are like grandparents.
That’s amazing. So, what does a typical day look like for you?
It really depends. As soon as you walk through the front door, you’re “on”. Whether it’s eight o’clock or nine in the morning, there’s always somebody to greet you, and with a question about the daily activities, or what’s happening in the Community or needing help. As soon as you walk through the door – you gotta be ready.
When I get to the office, it’s about planning ahead, looking at the agenda, the daily activities. It’s a busy calendar! My Lifestyles Assistant, Michaela – who is awesome! – and I will be setting up for the next program of the day, the recreational programming, or planning the next month’s calendar, special events, booking venues and entertainers, that kind of thing.
Then it’s about getting on the floor for the fitness and recreational programming. All of the V!VA retirement communities have an amazing V!VAfit program which typically kicks off the day. Every morning we have a fitness program that starts at 9:30am, some as early as 9:15. At 10am we have a meeting across all departments, where I give an update of what’s going on in the Community that day, so that all Team Members can encourage the Community Members to attend. That’s especially important for new Community Members, as we try to make them as comfortable as possible from day one. From the servers in the dining room who get to know them at mealtimes, to the housekeeping team who chat with them in their suites, we try to understand what they would like, and what their hobbies and interests are. We really try to make personal connections so they feel at home right away.
That must make the new Community Members and their families feel so much better after they’ve moved in.
It really does make a difference. But there’s even more than that to a “typical day!” After the Team Meeting, I go through each item on the agenda for what’s happening in the day, and make sure that the rooms are set up. Even though our Lifestyles department delivers the event, there is always the entire Waterside Team behind it. Housekeeping ensures the room is clean, Maintenance ensures everything is set up, and Culinary provides any food for those activities. There are a lot of moving parts behind the scenes that make it all happen, and appear seamless when we deliver it. If it’s successful, it goes unnoticed.
At the end of the day, before I leave, I check my e-mails and my voicemail and trying to make sure that I reply to everyone. I say my goodbyes as I make my way through the front lobby and into the dining room. It’s a great social time for a final connection with the Community Members before I leave; I take the extra few minutes, because it means the world to them.
Wow – I’m exhausted just listening to you! Do you have any advice for those looking to enter the field of lifestyles and recreation in retirement living?
You’ve got to be extremely patient, flexible and willing to go with the flow, because a lot of stuff doesn’t go according to plan. There often are times when we have 20 more people than we planned for. Or a room is double booked, because one of our Community Members has a family gathering – okay, how do we move this. But Community Members never seem to notice because the Team is so strong, and there’s always a Plan B and we just work together to get it done.
Wow, that sounds kind of stressful!
It isn’t all like that! This morning, there was a gentleman sitting over in our Perks! Café, having his breakfast; I had my tea and I just went over and talked with him, because he was dining on his own. That’s not really in any course you can take or policy, but if you work at a company like V!VA Retirement Communities, and live our Orange Dot Values, that stuff just comes naturally. Just recently one of our Community Members wasn’t feeling well, and his nephew had a scheduled meeting with me. The World Junior Hockey Tournament was on TV in our pub, and a lot of Community Members had gathered there. We could hear the cheering from the office. The nephew kept looking at his watch – so I asked if he wanted to watch the game, and we did. We joined the Community Members in the pub for the last 10 minutes of the game. When we got back to the office, he was feeling much more relaxed about his uncle. I told him that Having Fun! is one of our Orange Dot Values, and no matter how busy we are we need to be flexible enough to live that value. And he told me he could feel it, and how great it is to live and work in a place like this.
Also, you’ve got to be highly motivated and energized for the back-to-back-to-back programs, and be ready to keep up with the pace.
Most importantly, at the end of the day, you’ve got to love what you do, and who you do it for – it’s what will keep you flexible, highly-motivated, and coming back.
Alison, thank you so much for taking the time to share your insights about being a Lifestyles Manager at V!VA Retirement Communities. Now that we know how busy you are, we’ll let you get back to everything else.