We celebrate our VHS Residents during National Skilled Nursing Care Week

It’s National Skilled Nursing Care Week (May 8-14)! We are spotlighting some of our VHS Residents at Virginia Health Services’ seven nursing and rehabilitation centers. Our team supports our Residents in living their best life as they age with us.

We appreciate their time and the time of their visiting families and friends who all were so open in telling their stories.

Coliseum Nursing & Rehabilitation Center

Man about town

Curtis Cofield is a man about town —or at least about Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. The Newport News native uses his motorized chair to visit Residents and team members throughout the center in Hampton.

“I know everybody in here. Every day I can get out of bed, I make my rounds,” he says.

Curtis is a Vietnam War veteran and former bricklayer. He entered Coliseum about three years ago. He had a heart transplant following a massive heart attack in 2003.

Coliseum Resident Curtis Cofield

“I ain’t stressing. (Not since then.) Not going to worry about it; the next time might kill me,” he says of staying calm and maintaining a routine at Coliseum.

Not only does he know the Residents and team members at Coliseum, he used to be married to a current Resident.

“My ex-wife is here too,” he says. “We’re friends. … We get along better now than when we were married!”

Curtis has a sister and one son who live nearby and visit. His other four children are “spread out across the country.”

He graduated from Phenix High School in Hampton, and lived in Hampton and Newport News most of his life. He worked as part of a bricklayer union for 29 years, “anywhere I could work.”

His father was a bricklayer and owned a business.

“The guys there taught me how to do it,” he said. “I enjoyed the work. It was a lot of fun.”

He has lost both legs by amputation since coming to Coliseum because of vascular and other issues. But being able to chat up folks around Coliseum helps him pass the day.

“I learned how to deal with it by keeping myself busy; keeping going,” he says.

Brave lady’

She sits quietly near the same spot in the Coliseum dining room. She doesn’t like to miss the activities.

Isabel Santiago has been at Coliseum since June 2021. It’s closer to her daughter Mivia (Mimi), who visits her almost every day before going to work in the evenings. Isabel transferred there from VHS-owned Northampton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center following rehab from a stroke. She lived with Mimi for five years before that.

“They’re keeping me busy,” Isabel says. “I do whatever they have.”

Coliseum Resident Isabel Santiago and her daughter, Mimi.

She originally is from Ponce, Puerto Rico. She first came to the U.S. when she was 14 years old in search of work to help support her family at home.

“This brave lady went to New York City at 14 by herself,” her daughter says proudly. “A cab driver checked to make sure the apartment she was going to was safe before letting her out of the cab.”

Isabel is the mother of eight. She has numerous grandchildren, and great- and great-great grandchildren.

She and her husband met while they lived in New York City. They were childhood sweethearts and were married for 52 years before her husband passed away from cancer in 2013.

“The neighborhood raises family,” Mimi said of growing up in the Bronx where everyone looked out for everyone else’s kids.

Isabel got her GED so she wouldn’t have to quit her jobs to go to school. She traveled between family in Puerto Rico and NYC. She was a social worker in New York City and helped mediate gang relations in schools.

“I enjoy relating to people,” she says.

Isabel also moved to where her children were, spending time in Texas and Florida before moving to Virginia to be closer to Mimi.

“I have friends in a lot of places,” she said, adding she really liked Texas.

She was a receptionist at a hospital in Texas, and in other health clinics. She retired at age 72.

Isabel says she is enjoying her time at Coliseum, and really likes the staff and the activity programs. She and her daughter are happy with the rehabilitation services.

“She’s doing really good here,” Mimi says.

James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Centenarian

Katherine Gatewood has been at James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center “a long, long time,” she says, smiling. She can’t recall the date, but estimates it was around 2005.

She will be 100 years old on May 14, which she greets with a shrug.

A collage of photos from Katherine Gatewood’s life hangs in her room at James River

“If I were able to go out, be more active, I’d enjoy (turning 100) more,” she says.

Katherine says she is hopes her family is able to visit for the milestone.

She was joined for our interview by her therapist Mavis, who says they do “talk therapy.”

They have been working together for about a year and a half, Mavis said.

Katherine says she was born and raised in Newport News, and a bit of a homebody in that she didn’t travel much. But she did have an active social life, she says.

She worked as a telephone operator and bookkeeper—“nothing to brag about,” she says with a shrug — and says her greatest accomplishment was raising her children.

“Raising children was the most fun, watching them grow and mature,” she says.

One son and his family live in Wilmington, N.C., and another is in Virginia Beach. He comes to visit weekly and does her laundry. Both sons call every day.

Katherine Gatewood turns 100 on May 14.

They help keep her abreast of the family, which includes one grandson and two great-granddaughters who are in college and have studied abroad in France and Italy.

Her room at James River is homey, with lots of family photos on the walls. Her sons “made the room feel like home. Guess they figured I’d be here a while,” she says with a chuckle.

Katherine’s father was a college professor and her mother stayed home to raise her. She was an only child.

Her family was the first to have a refrigerator on their block and the neighbors would come by to look at it, she says.

While she can’t recall how long she was married, she was widowed young. Her husband died at age 53. She never remarried because she says, “he was my soulmate. He was a good man.”

She developed many friendships over the years, including several friends from St. Vincent’s Catholic Church. They keep in touch now more by phone because of various health issues — “I might be in the best shape of all them,” she says.

Kind word for all

Sandra Jordan has been at James River for 12 years. She recently lost her only son, and there’s little family remaining.

James River Resident Sandra Jordan.

The team at James River “look out for me and help me,” she says. She uses a wheelchair.

Sandra was from New York, and moved to the area first to attend Hampton University. In her first year, she met and married her husband.

“I just stayed after that,” she says.

They divorced when their son turned 18, she says, but remained friends.

“I’ve been single ever since.”

She worked as a kitchen supervisor at Sentara for 15 years and Riverside for 10 years, so “I’m particular about the food,” she says.

Sandra believes in giving a kind word to all. She tries to help her roommate when she can.

She enjoys the daily activity programs. Sandra says she enjoys bingo and the live music the most.

“It’s one day at a time,” she says.

Lancashire Nursing & Rehabilitation Center

‘The therapists are wonderful’

Aldrema McMillan has her sights set on the future—when she can leave Lancashire Nursing and Rehabilitation Center fully or partially recovered. And she knows the care she is receiving at Lancashire will get her there.

“I appreciate the therapists here,” she says. “They really worked with me to recover. Whether it’s a partial or complete recovery, I’m (hopefully) going home.”

Lancashire Resident Aldrema McMillan

Aldrema is recovering from a fall in which she injured her neck. She moved into Lancashire in August 2021, and hopes by this August, she will move home.

“I do like it here,” she says. She has a private room and enjoys the activities programs. She also likes having a bird feeder out of her window.

“The therapists are wonderful,” she says. Aldrema is working with occupational and physical therapists in her recovery.

She is originally from Lancaster County. While she has detoured to New York City, northern Virginia and the Peninsula, she returned to her home county for her rehab.

Aldrema left for NYC after high school.

“The journey to New York is the ultimate challenge,” she said. “If you can live there, you can live anywhere.”

It was there she met her husband, who worked for TWA and then American Airlines at airports in the Mid-Atlantic. They lived on Long Island, and she took the train into Manhattan for her job as an underwriter for New York Life Insurance.

They married in 1972 and had four children.

Her husband, who passed away in 2009, worked at JFK for 20 years before being transferred to various other airports. When she moved to the Peninsula, he remained in northern Virginia most of the time because of his work schedule.

She has seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, most of whom live on the Peninsula and come to visit.

“All a nice bunch. I enjoy them,” she says of her family.

Aldrema enjoyed the prom at Lancashire on May 3, 2022.

She worked as a dispatcher for the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Department, earning awards and recognition. She retired in 2013.

“I was trying to enjoy (retirement) gracefully,” she says, until her fall. “Everything is coming back except the walking.”

Aldrema continues to work with the rehab team at Lancashire on her recovery. She’s an advocate for herself and other Residents, never hesitating to speak up.

“No sense in keeping quiet,” she says with a smile.

Colorful relaxation

Mildred Clark has called Lancashire Nursing and Rehabilitation Center home for the past six years. She knows she needs the extra care the team provides, and it allows her to be close to her daughter.

“I like here,” she says. “I’ve been satisfied.”

You can usually find her coloring in her room. The pages are intricate, full of detail, and Mildred’s hand moves steadily inside the lines with fine-point colored pencils.

Lancashire Resident Mildred Clark.

Before she moved to Lancashire, she said she hadn’t colored since she was a little girl. Her daughter gave her a book and she took off from there. She gives away many of her pages to family and others. Some are framed and displayed in her room.

“It’s really relaxing,” she says. “Takes your mind off of everything.”

It also, along with medication, helped her keep control in her hands from the Parkinson’s disease. She also has COPD and uses oxygen regularly.

Her coloring group at Lancashire doesn’t meet as often as it used to since the pandemic, when movement was more restricted to stop the spread of the virus. But she does get more visitors, including a 3-year-old great-granddaughter she met in person for the first time recently.

“She took right to me,” Mildred says, patting the chair, “and came right up here to color with me.”

Mildred lived in Richmond and has three children, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Her oldest daughter lives in Lancaster County.

Mildred likes coloring detailed pictures, and finds it relaxing. “Takes your mind off everything,” she says.

She worked for a printing company in Richmond.

“It was hard work,” she says, “It’s physically hard on your body.”

After 14 years there, she retired at age 62 when social security kicked in. She moved in with her oldest daughter about 10 years ago following her divorce, then lived independently until she was in and out of the hospital too often.

“I’ve never lived outside Virginia,” Mildred says. “… I’m not a traveling woman, I don’t think.”

Northampton Nursing & Rehabilitation Center

From Civil Service to model

Marie Collins sits tall in her wheelchair, comfortable dressed with long necklaces and earrings.

She’s proud of her independence, like getting herself out of bed, showered and dressed, and making the bed to start her day at Northampton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

Marie will be 98 in August, and her goal is to use the walker to get to her door without needing her therapist to follow behind her with her wheelchair should her legs give out.

Northampton Resident Marie Collins.

She has been a Resident at Northampton since February 2020, and moved from the skilled unit to a single room last August. She’s comfortable, happy with the team members and rehab therapists, and pleased to not have to worry about grocery shopping, cooking or cleaning her space (though she does keep it tidy and dusts).

“I’m an active Resident,” she says. “I love it here. I like the nurses. What more could we want?”

She has even acquiesced to play Bingo, which she says she didn’t enjoy before coming to Northampton.

Marie says it’s been difficult to outlive her friends. But, “here is where my life is now. But I just have acquaintances.”

She spent nearly 45 years of her life as a secretary, and then another 20 as a senior model in several campaigns and with community fashion shows. She spent much of her career in the U.S. Civil Service, retiring in 1986.

Her husband Jim was transferred to Ramstein Air Base in Germany after they met in Texas. She eventually traveled there and they were wed in Germany in 1956. Eventually, he was transferred back to Texas.

She tried to find a job, but was turned away because “you’re an Air Force wife. As soon as I train you, you’ll have to leave. So, I showed them. I joined the Civil Service.”

They were transferred to Hampton, and she took a job at Langley Air Force Base. The couple spent two years in Istanbul, Turkey.

“I loved it, but my husband didn’t. He was in JAG, working with the local police,” she says.

They returned stateside in 1968. Jim had two heart attacks. He was discharged from the Air Force, and the couple returned to Virginia.

Even after he passed in 1970, Marie stayed in Hampton. She spent the last 18 years of her Civil Service career at Langley.

“I never went back to Pennsylvania,” she says.

When her parents passed, she sold her half of the family farm in Hesston, Pennsylvania, back to her sister. Marie’s nephew and his wife live there now, and visit about once a month when she goes to the doctor. They’re her remaining living family.

“If you’re going to live here, you’re going to make the most of it.”

Northampton Resident Marie Collins

In 1994, she sold the Hampton house. She moved into an apartment, and then to smaller apartment on the first floor in 2012.

Through her involvement with the NARFE, she became president of the local chapter, which at one point had nearly 1,000 members (“there’s a lot of retired federal workers here.”)

Her right knee started giving her trouble at 95. “Mother Nature decided it was time to slow me down.”

She wasn’t interested in getting a knee replacement at that age. After a bout with COVID, she moved into Northampton. It’s home now.

“If you’re going to live here, you’re going to make the most of it,” she said of decorating her single room as comfortable as possible.

The Newport Nursing & Rehabilitation Center

Go Hokies!

Hampton “Vince” Snidow, 82, has been a Resident of The Newport for about four years. His health prevents him from moving or speaking very much some days, but you can tell by the smile on his face when he hears his wife, Nancy, speak, he’s engaged.

Vince and Nancy married July 21, 1979, and she is still by his side daily. She visits twice a day at meal times, living nearby around Christopher Newport University.

Nancy and Vince Snidow have lived in Newport News most of their lives.

The Snidows have been “community oriented all these years,” actively participating in their churches (North Riverside Baptist and Hidenwood Presbyterian), and with organizations such as Salvation Army, Virginia Living Museum, Peninsula Rescue Mission and Menchville House.

Vince Snidow came to the area after spending three years in the Army, and then the reserves. He worked at the Newport News shipyard for 50 years as a mechanical engineer, retiring in 2011. He worked on several projects, including submarines and aircraft carriers, but also liked working on the commercial projects.

Nancy says they attended several christenings, happily remembering meeting Susan Ford during the keel laying for the carrier named after her father.

The christenings were always “very exciting,” Nancy says, “and it was just funny when they couldn’t break the bottle.”

Vince is originally from Kentucky, and has a sister named Virginia (though she lives in Kentucky). He is a Hokie through and through, sporting a Virginia Tech jersey during a recent visit. He was in the Corps at the school, and remains close friends with fellow VT Corps members.

“He keeps the postal service in business,” Nancy says of his room full of cards and tokens from friends and family, and the children from church.

Church friends and his friends from the Army and VT Corps visit when they can, Nancy says.

“Church friends have been supportive of us and kept us going,” she says.

When Nancy visits, she says she tries to stimulate Vince by playing music.

“He still remembers … he likes John Denver, Elvis, classical, bluegrass, hymns,” she says, sorting through a drawer next to his bed of CDs he’s been sent from friends.

“He keeps the postal service in business,” Nancy Snidow says of her husband Vince’s room of cards at The Newport.

Nancy says she and Vince love the outdoors, and they walked the Noland Trail regularly when he was well enough and volunteered to clear it on Earth Day each year.

Their charity work is focused on helping children “improve their lives,” Nancy says. Vince has a rare blood type and he donated his blood, which was used in research to help premature children and cancer patients.

“A lot of children are probably living today who wouldn’t be if it weren’t for those donations,” she says. His gift to immunodeficient patients was outlined in a Daily Press article in 2003.

The Snidows enjoyed traveling, visiting the provinces of Canada and several National Parks, including Yellowstone and Yosemite.

Vince also is a big baseball fan, and roots for the Reds. They traveled to see games in as many stadiums as possible, Nancy says, including Fenway Park in Boston.

“It was exciting to see the Green Monster.”

After his retirement, Vince started to show signs of Parkinson’s, which prevented the Snidows from traveling as much as they thought they would.

The team at The Newport has become family to the Snidows, Nancy says.

Walter Reed Nursing & Rehabilitation Center

Garden caretaker

You can tell he’s spent a majority of his time outdoors by his weathered hands and ballcap.

A former farmer and volunteer firefighter from Deltaville in Middlesex County, Carl Vaughan tends to the courtyard at Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center almost daily.

Carl Vaughan tends to a garden in the courtyard of Walter Reed every day the weather cooperates.

“I do it to get outside. I’ve always been an outdoors guy,” he says.

Carl plans his garden at Walter Reed with the help of activity director Julie Boothe. They look over catalogs and she orders his seeds and supplies. The community also provides donations for the courtyard garden.

He started keeping up with the Walter Reed garden around the time of the pandemic in mid-2020.  The Master Gardeners of Gloucester weren’t able to come when visitation was closed, and Carl assumed the caretaking role.

He told Julie, though, “I’m planting vegetables, not flowers.”

Carl also takes care of the plants in the greenhouse.

There are still flowers in the courtyard, but there are lots of other plants as well. Carl has planted peas, patio corn, radishes, cucumbers, lettuces, green peppers, three varieties of squash, and five types of tomatoes.

Why so many? He really enjoys a good tomato sandwich.

Carl rakes the courtyard, waters and manages the greenhouse.

He also lays net over the corn to keep the crows and other birds away.

Carl and Julie plan to experiment with other lettuces in the fall, such as kale.

York Nursing & Rehabilitation Center

Soprano & Mathematician

Virginia Wilkinson was a mathematician and a singer. She reads and does crossword puzzles daily. And she’s 105 years old.

Virginia Wilkinson is originally from Portsmouth. She’s called a lot of places home, including York Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. She enjoys talking with activity director Mary Garrity and appreciates the nursing staff.

York Resident Virginia Wilkinson.

“I don’t have to shop for groceries or cook here. What’s not to like?” she says.

Virginia recalls her youth fondly.

“I had a very happy childhood,” she says. “People always say only children are spoiled, but my parents taught me how to share.”

Her father lost his business during the Great Depression, which she said ended her chance to go to college.

Instead, Virginia worked for NACA —“that’s N.A.C.A., before it was NASA, N.A.S.A.,” she explains —in Hampton and did long division.

“I’ve never done long division like that again,” she said.

She was the lead soprano at Episcopal Church in Portsmouth for eight years.

Virginia was married for 62 years, and her husband worked for Seaboard Air Line Railroad in Norfolk. They were transferred to Richmond, which is where she mostly raised her son.

There are three grandsons, five great-grandsons, and two great-granddaughters. The family is far-flung to places including Norway and Texas, though her son at age 75 lives in Gloucester, within driving distance of York.

She says she enjoyed living in Richmond very much, especially the parties and other railway gatherings she attended with her husband.

“I had a wonderful time meeting all those people,” she says. “I’m a people person … I like to be with people.”

Virginia also enjoyed traveling. Following one business trip, she says her husband came home from a business trip and said, “I’m buying a new car, and you and I are going cross country.”

They traveled to the Pacific Northwest, and from the far-away look in her eye, it’s clear she enjoyed the trip. “It was a wonderful time, just wonderful.”

She reads as much as she can, currently starting a compilation of stories from Jan Karon.

Virginia was paired with roommate Joyce Tracy, who Mary refers to as a “social butterfly.”

‘Social butterfly’

Joyce Tracy is 87 years old, and says she’s had two strokes, which prompted her move to York. But she’s very comfortable getting around in her wheelchair, and visiting various team members and fellow Residents.

“I just do silly things,” she says. “I try to put a smile on peoples’ faces.

Joyce Tracy spent 37 years working for NASA Langley. Now the “Bull Island Girl” flits around York making friends smile.

“I go down the hall and everyone knows my name. … I’ve decided life is too short to worry about being silly.”

Joyce spent 37 years working for NASA Langley in Hampton. She worked in the special documents department of the technical library. Her eyes sparkle a little as she remembers how she needed security clearance to deal with the documents in her care.

She also was a florist, and was able to travel many times while with FTD. She worked there “on and off, between having children.”

Joyce has two daughters who she says help take care of her and four grandchildren.

She is “a Bull Island girl,” from Poquoson.

Her husband was enlisted in the military after high school — “it was the only two years I didn’t live on the Peninsula” — before they returned and he worked in design at the Newport News shipyard.

Joyce retired in 2002. “I’m very fortunate to be as well as I am,” she says.

“This is nice,” she says of York. Her daughters also refer friends and family members looking for a nursing home to York. It’s clean, a great team. The best company (hand gesturing all around).

Virginia is the “perfect” roommate.

“I love everybody,” Joyce said. “Have good fun, that’s what life should be”

Knitting group at The Arbors shares skills, camaraderie

It’s like being in a private living room. Step off the elevator on the third floor at 1 p.m. Wednesdays and the knitters of The Arbors Independent Living are waiting to greet you warmly.

Especially if you are ready to pick up a needle and yarn.

The knitting club at The Arbors meets once a week, and when they get rolling, it’s 50-50 as to whether they’ll stop for a 2 p.m. activity or keep going.

Pat shows off the afghan she has been working on for about a year. It’s so large, it takes about an hour to do a row.

The leader of the pack is Joyce, who taught knitting while she worked for the Village Stitchery in Newport News for 10 years.

She started knitting at age 9. “You know, you pick it up on and off,” she said.

But the title of fastest knitter, Joyce says, is 95-year-old Doris.

“I’m a fast lady,” she says with a grin.

Shared interest

There are typically about five or six women who gather to knit together and get advice on their projects from Joyce. The open sitting area has comfy furniture, a large window and two bookshelves with containers full of yarn and other knitting materials.

Joyce said they have been meeting for four years, since she moved into The Arbors.

Doris, at 95, is the fastest knitter in the group. “I’m a fast lady,” she jokes.

Doris has been an Arbors resident for five years. She is making hats to be donated to Children’s Hospital of the Kings Daughters (CHKD).

During a recent meeting, Doris was redoing a child’s scarf to go with a hat she already made. She was unsatisfied with her first attempt and said she ripped the stitching apart to start over.

She learned to knit from her mother, who was “good at everything.”

Doris also can sew and embroider. But it was The Arbors group that drew her back into knitting.

“Joyce got me on it (at The Arbors),” Doris said, “taught me more stuff than I know.”

Teaching & Persistence

Doris said neither of her daughters knit. Joyce added her granddaughters do, but like it when she corrects their mistakes because “then I finish the row.”

She has been giving Pat tips on her afghan, which she has been working on for about a year.

Joyce measures a needle size. She worked at Village Stitchery for several years.

“I’m persistent if nothings else,” Pat said. She found the perfect colors of yarn for it so it matches her apartment décor.

“I learned to knit and sew years ago and then took a break,” she said. The group at The Arbors drew her back into it.

Joyce recently made a blanket in bright pink yarn for her soon-to-be great-granddaughter.

There are about four to five consistent group members, though others will pop in, depending on what’s going on, Joyce said.

Doris added that it’s the people who keep her going. And activity director Ora Williams, who is learning to knit with the group.

“She has so much energy, she makes me have the energy,” Doris said.

VHS freshens up supplement program

Virginia Health Services is rolling out a natural supplement program to help enhance Residents’ diets and get away from using commercial supplements by replacing them with more natural ingredients.

The program launched Wednesday at The Arbors Independent Living with a smoothie demonstration from Chef Akira Johnston and a presentation by VHS Director of Dining and Nutrition Viki Reynolds.

The Arbors Residents enjoyed the fruit smoothie of peach, pineapple, mango and fruit juices. As the program amps up, other ingredients, such as leafy greens, berries and protein will be added to the smoothies further enhance nutritional benefits, Reynolds said.

The program also may include other natural snacks such as a yogurt bar or nutritional cookies because “you probably don’t want a smoothie every day,” Reynolds said.

Any time you use real food over something processed you end up getting more nutritional benefits, she added.

The program is starting at VHS’s independent living community before it’s rollout in its assisted living communities and nursing and rehabilitation centers. Eventually, it may be incorporated into individual care plans to replace commercial supplements.

Residents who are at higher risk, not eating well or losing weight will most benefit from the program. The natural ingredients will be high in nutritional benefits, Reynolds said, and the snack program will be served in between meals.

Good smoothies

Reynolds, a registered dietician, laid out the key ingredients to a healthy smoothie. It should be a balance of about three ingredients that have varying nutritional benefits. Fruits, berries and a dark leafy green help add fiber, vitamin K, sweetness and antioxidants.

You also should include a source of protein, such as powdered milk, nut or dairy milk, peanut butter or yogurt. Smoothies at long-term care centers would include proteins, she said.

“I’ve seen it work”

Reynolds has worked in other facilities, including Memory Care centers. She said she has seen the natural supplement program work. It’s a good way to get nutrition into Residents who struggle to focus on eating full meals.

The healthy snack program will be incorporated into the daily activity program and the social aspect of the program helps bring Residents out of their rooms.

Name it

An Arbors Resident considers naming options during the program launch Wednesday, April 6, 2022.

During the inaugural smoothie rollout, the Residents at The Arbors were asked to select and vote on a name. They were really engaged in the process, so stay tuned for our officially named healthy supplement snack program. Choices included: VHS (Vital, Healthy, Snack burst), VHS Gold Burst, VHS Bright Blends and VHS Flavor Favor. Residents also were encouraged to write-in their own.

Food for thought: Diet can help slow advance of Alzheimer’s disease

Virginia Health Services Director of Dining and Nutrition Viki Reynolds is familiar with what dementia and Alzheimer’s disease can do to an individual and their family members.

VHS Director of Dining and Nutrition Viki Reynolds presents at The Arbors.
VHS Director of Dining and Nutrition Viki Reynolds presents at The Arbors on April 1, 2022.

During a Lunch & Learn sponsored by the Peninsula Agency on Aging at The Arbors Independent Living, Reynolds put up a family photo where at least five women in the photo have Alzheimer’s.

“This is something near and dear to me,” Reynolds told the group of about 30 in The Arbors dining room.

Alzheimer’s disease is the fifth leading cause of death in adults 65 and older, according to the CDC. Reynolds described it as the destruction of the connections between brain cells by plaque, or protein, buildup. It causes memory loss, and can eventually lead to loss of functions of daily life.

Keep your mind sharp

During her talk, Reynolds offered tips to “use your knife and fork to sharpen your mind.”

Maintaining a healthy diet, and incorporating specific foods, can help stave off Alzheimer’s, she said.

The talk was paired with a buffet lunch from Arbors Chef Akira Johnston and team that featured several of the foods mentioned, including wild rice pilaf (grains), turkey bruschetta and grilled chicken (poultry), spinach salad with blueberries and strawberries (leafy greens and berries), and seafood soup (fish).

Reynolds is a registered dietitian, one of four on the Virginia Health Services team. She oversees the dining and nutritional programs throughout VHS.

Ways Reynolds said you can feed your brain are through:

  • Exercise, such as taking a walk.
  • Keep mind active, like doing crossword puzzles or watching Jeopardy.
  • Diet, incorporating specific foods into your week that have antioxidants and Omega 3s.
Foods to include in a “Mind Diet” are oats, whole grain bread, tree nuts such as walnuts, blueberries and leafy greens.

“Mind Diet”

The diet for your mind should include foods in their truest form – such as fresh strawberries and blueberries – so you get the most from their health benefits.

With a basket of recommended foods at her side, Reynolds walked the audience through the “Mind Diet.”

  • Green vegetables: two servings per day is recommended. (“As a dietitian, I have to tell you, you need more than that,” she says.)
  • Dark, leafy greens: two servings per day. Includes kale, dark leafy green lettuce. A vegetable such as broccoli is good, but you need a larger serving to get the same benefits.
  • Berries: five servings (half cup) a week. “It’s best to eat them raw,” Reynolds said. That includes blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries. They have antioxidants that help reduce inflammation.
  • Dried beans: three servings per week. They contain Omega 3s, which “promote healthy brain function.”
  • Whole grains: three servings per day. Includes brown rice, whole grain breads, oats and whole grain cereals.
  • Poultry: two to three times a week. Grilled chicken, turkey, etc.
  • Salmon: one serving per week. High in Omega 3s, which work to “decrease protein clumps that might be happening in the brain.”
  • Olive oil: 2 tablespoons a day. Extra virgin olive oil is less processed and has the most health benefits. While it doesn’t have a low smoke point, which makes it not as good to cook with, it can be used in salad dressings for those dark, leafy green and berry salads.
  • Nuts: five times a week “is encouraged.” Any type of tree nuts, such as walnuts and pecans, are good. Peanuts, which grow in the ground, have fewer nutritional benefits, but when unprocessed are still OK. Oils in the nuts are high in Omega 3s and antioxidants.

Shopping and other tips

Reynolds shared several tips to help you feed your “mind diet.”

At the grocery store

  • “Keep your cart on the outside lanes of the grocery store,” she said. “That’s where you’ll find the fresh produce, fresh meat, even some of the frozen items on ends. Inside aisles have the less healthy items, like boxed and canned goods that can contain high levels of sugar and sodium.”
  • Read the packages before purchasing to check for the nutritional benefits.
  • You’ll get the most benefits out of whole food items. If they are canned, or otherwise altered, you’ll lose nutritional benefits such as fiber, beta carotene, etc.
  • Frozen fruits and vegetables are good alternatives to raw, as they are frozen at their peak and can keep longer than fresh produce.

Nutritional thinking

  • Talk to a physician about adding certain foods to your diet if you are concerned it will react poorly with a prescribed medication.
  • Try to avoid red meat, bacon, and other items high in sodium or fat.
  • Smoothies can limit nutritional value, but “if someone has a cognitive issue, transform the food however you can to get these items into their diet.”

While concentrating on diet can be helpful, and in early stages, can help back up damage to memory in later stages, Reynolds said.

Healthwise, “you can’t lose with following something like this,” she said.

New chef energizes kitchen at The Arbors

The new chef at The Arbors Independent Living vibrates energy.

She’ll be the first to tell you she can’t sit still – she is either moving or asleep. There is no turning it off.

Chef Akira Johnston brings that energy into the kitchen at The Arbors every day, creating daily specials to enhance the month’s regular menu items. She brings that energy to working with the team in the kitchen, perfecting systems, plating and consistency.

She brings that energy to the dining room, chatting with the Residents about what they like, dislike and what they would like to see coming from the kitchen.

“I am always full of energy,” she said. “I don’t stop.”

Work in senior living

Chef Akira Johnston spent five years at Williamsburg Landing before leading the team at The Arbors Independent Living.

Before joining The Arbors in January, Johnston spent five years at Williamsburg Landing.

She has experience in independent living, assisted living and helped prepare meals for the nursing home at The Landing by pureeing or chopping food, whatever needed to be done to meet a Resident’s feeding and dietary needs.

Johnston is health conscious, and not just because of the environments she has worked in.

“In my free time, I’m very conscious about what I eat, about what I put in my body,” she said. “I try to eat clean and healthy. I want to give fresh fish, fresh vegetables. … I weave (nutritional factors) in by considering my personal diet too. I wouldn’t serve (the Residents) something I wouldn’t eat.”

She also is conscious of portion control, and keeping the menus high quality and appealing.

“At the end of the day, they’re ordering from this menu, not me,” she said.

She has to offer healthy, tasty options. Some well-received menu items so far have been fresh fish, coconut Thai curry and a salmon cake.

Johnston said she gets ideas from the Residents.

“I like to come out to talk to the Residents,” she said. “This has been my favorite crowd of people. I like building these relationships (and hearing their stories).”

Chef’s palate

Johnston said she doesn’t spend her off time cooking – “I am much better at mass production than a meal for two” – but loves to dine out.

Close up of the curry dish with a plateau of rice in the middle of the sauce.
One of Chef Akira’s new menu items is a Thai Chicken Coconut Curry that has been well-received by Residents at The Arbors.

“I like going out to eat,” she said. “I like trying new restaurants to see what’s out there: concepts, menu names, flavor profiles.”

Her favorite cuisine is Japanese.

“I love sushi,” she said. She may incorporate hibachi-style vegetables or chicken in a menu for The Arbors.

She also said she loves fine dining, eating at restaurants such as Ruth Chris. And sandwiches. She’s a big fan of a Wawa sandwich or a meal at Paul’s Deli in the New Town area of Williamsburg.

One of her favorite spots in Newport News is down the street from The Arbors at Thaijindesu Thai and Sushi Bar.

She travels for food. Johnston said she took a trip to Philadelphia just to compare cheesesteaks. She travels frequently to San Francisco to visit family and eat.

She compiles her ideas on a whiteboard in her office at The Arbors, taking menu inspiration from the board often.

“When it hits me, it gets added to the board,” she said.

She also stays active in her spare time, running, exercising and going to hear live music.

Getting her start

Chef Akira Johnston and her team showcase the March specials in the lobby of The Arbors.

Johnston, 29, didn’t grow up wanting to be a chef. Growing up in Newport News, she attended Heritage High School, played sports and considered joining the military.

Life events took her in a different direction.

“I knew I liked food,” she said.

Johnston enrolled in the Culinary Institute of Virginia, earning her associate’s degree before joining the College Program at Walt Disney World.

What was supposed to be a three-month stint turned into several extensions that had her experience the culinary programs at Disney for a year.

She spent time at The Wave restaurant in The Contemporary Resort, the Coral Reef in EPCOT and working stations during the Food & Wine Festival.

The tasks were a little too repetitious for her – “I was too creative,” she said, to feel comfortable in the structure.

“I either had to take a full-time job there or come back home,” she said. “I wanted more. I didn’t want to stop myself right there. I came back here to finish school.”

She completed her bachelor’s degree with the Culinary Institute of Virginia.

Healthy lifestyle begins with ‘power-half hour’ of chair exercises

The Residents at The Arbors Independent Living are getting an assist in staying active.

VHS Rehabilitation tech Kim Kutscher leads a chair exercise class with a group of Residents daily in The Arbors community room.

“It’s a head-to-toe program with cardio,” she says. “A true power half-hour!”

Hamilton residents do leg lifts during chair exercise class

Hamilton residents do leg lifts during chair exercise class

Kutscher, who has been with Virginia Health Services for 17 years, also leads a class twice a week at The Hamilton Assisted Living in York County.

“It’s booming right now,” she said. “There’s quite a few who come to class on a regular basis.”

There are about 10 for Kutscher’s class at The Arbors on a recent weekday morning. Some arrive early to chat with her and get their pick of seats in the community room.

Kutscher said the benefit of group classes is a camaraderie develops among the participants. Some participants who have caregivers are sometimes assisted as they go through the exercises.

The Arbors Residents, since the COVID-19 pandemic began, hang onto their equipment: a theraband, ball and hand weights. Kutscher said some Residents use the equipment and exercise sheet she provides to continue their work on the weekends.

Residents at The Arbors lift an arm in the air with a hand weight.

Hand weights are a recent addition to chair exercise classes at The Arbors Independent Living.

If one-on-one therapy is needed, participants are encouraged to use VHS Rehab and VHS Home Health Care. Kutscher strictly provides group sessions, seeking the advice of VHS physical therapists about adding certain exercises to the program when needed.

She says that if someone is seated for long periods of time, even if they aren’t in class, they should focus on ankle and leg work “to keep them strengthening and prevent atrophy.” Muscles can get weak, making it difficult to move from a seated to a standing position.

Her class works from the feet up, all the way through finger movement, shoulder rolls and deep breaths to close out the class.

Long-time volunteers with Virginia Health Services find purpose in service

A near lifetime of community service for Martha and Jerry Dodson was put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The contagion prevented the Dodsons from their usual rounds of facility-based volunteer activities, and for the most part suspended their annual 40-plus year tradition of being Santa and Mrs. Claus at nursing homes on the Peninsula.

The Dodsons are happy to be back into the swing of things again. It’s their most wonderful time of the year.

They have already presented gifts to Residents at The Newport, and have visits to The Huntington, The Hamilton and York on the books.

The Dodsons were some of the first volunteers back into Virginia Health Services’ facilities. They host crafts projects at The Huntington, resuming those visits in June.

Vaccinations, the use of PPE and changes to federal guidelines in regard to visitation in long-term care facilities have allowed VHS to welcome back volunteers.

Martha and Jerry Dodson

Martha and Jerry Dodson have volunteered at The Newport and Huntington for at least 10 years.

Volunteer hiatus

While the world paused, Martha said she “missed feeling like I had a purpose.” Jerry nodded along with the sentiment.

She tapped into her arts and crafts background and started creating greeting cards during the time away. Even while the distribution of them was on hold, she said she started to feel like she had a purpose again.

Martha and members from her recently created painting group and members of the Junior Women’s Club of Hilton Village – of which Jerry is an honorary member as well – created nearly 100 cards to share with Residents at the Huntington and other nursing facilities in the area.

Jerry Dodson speaks with a Resident

Jerry Dodson speaks to a Huntington Resident during craft time.

All of the VHS communities need volunteers to help with programs or to provide entertainment and fellowship to their Residents.

“Volunteering doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of time or money,” Martha said.

There are all kinds of ways you can volunteer, whether it’s by creating a card, volunteering to help with a craft project, or making a phone call.

“We fill in the gaps,” Jerry said. “We had so many relatives – and that’s OK, we don’t have any children – because Residents thought we were family.”

Martha added, “You just develop relationships, connect with folks, you know?”

Long history of volunteering

The Dodsons have more than 40 years developing those connections on the Peninsula. In addition to their Santa and Mrs. Claus gigs, which take them to nursing homes from Williamsburg to York County, Newport News and Hampton, they have been hospital clowns and Jerry often visits as the Easter Bunny.

Martha Dodson does a craft with a resident at The Huntington

Martha Dodson and her husband Jerry resumed volunteering at The Huntington in June.

Martha and Jerry have volunteered at The Huntington and The Newport for at least 10 years. They also do deliveries with Meals on Wheels, Jerry tends the grounds and landscaping at their church, and Martha has spent several years volunteering with a first-grade class (when in session).

It’s a volunteer opportunity she landed as a result of the people she networked with while volunteering at The Huntington.

Before building access was restricted because of the pandemic, Martha hosted craft projects once a month at The Huntington, and, often, The Newport.

Jerry was on the original board for the Peninsula Agency on Aging (and still is on the membership board), and worked as a social worker and in Adult Protective Services for the City of Hampton before retiring.

Volunteering was ingrained in him at a young age. Jerry’s father was in Lions Club, and Jerry saw his parents volunteer at schools. The torch was passed, he said.

He and Martha met as members of the first four-year graduating class at Christopher Newport University in Newport News. That class celebrated its 50th anniversary over the summer.

The Dodsons encourage volunteering in a nursing and rehabilitation center.

“When (the Residents) have a visitor, it’s a bright spot during the day. And it might only be for 30 seconds,” Martha said.

The Residents appreciate having someone to talk to, Jerry said.

Volunteers needed

All of Virginia Health Services’ communities are rebuilding their volunteer programs.

Church and youth groups, school service organizations, Greek life and other college organizations, and individuals are needed to help facilitate activities and provide social interaction and support to Residents.

Applications are being accepted at all VHS facilities. Criminal background checks, PPD tests and proof of the COVID-19 vaccination are asked of those who volunteer in a building consistently more than 10 hours a week.

Contact the facility nearest you to apply and discuss options with the Activities team.

Volunteer locations

Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Address: 305 Marcella Road, Hampton, Virginia 23666

Phone: 757-827-8953

The Hamilton Assisted Living

Address: 113 Battle Road, Yorktown, Virginia 23692

Phone number: 757-243-8559

The Huntington Assisted Living

Address: 11143 Warwick Blvd., Newport News, Virginia 23601

Phone: 757-223-0888

James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Address: 540 Aberthaw Ave., Newport News, Virginia 23601

Phone: 757-595-2273

Lancashire Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Address: 287 School St., Kilmarnock, Virginia 22482

Phone: 804-435-1684

The Newport Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Address: 11141 Warwick Blvd., Newport News, Virginia 23601

Phone: 757-595-3733

Northampton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Address: 1028 Topping Lane, Hampton, Virginia 23666

Phone: 757-826-4922

Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Address: 7602 Meredith Drive, Gloucester Courthouse, Virginia 23061

Phone: 804-693-6503

York Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Address: 113 Battle Road, Yorktown, Virginia 23692

Phone: 757-898-1491

Virginia Health Services celebrates its Residents for National Assisted Living Week

This week we are highlighting Residents in Virginia Health Services’ assisted living communities as part of National Assisted Living Week.

The communities provide medical assistance to those who need help with ADLs (activities of daily living) while still maintaining independence in a private apartment home.

The Huntington at Newport and The Hamilton at The York offer these senior living options in comfortable, spacious private rooms in Newport News and York County.

Learn more about our Residents and their experiences below.

Living at The Huntington

Elaine Amnott

Elaine Amnott at The HuntingtonElaine Amnott joined The Huntington community in May 2020.

She spent time recovering from a stroke at The Newport and Huntington, where she worked with a speech therapist to learn how to talk again.

“I felt like I was in school. … The therapist was very good. She taught me and I got my speech back,” Mrs. Amnott said.

“I learned independence here – learned I can do more than I thought I could,” she said.

She was born in Newport News, but soon moved to the family tobacco farm in Morehead City, N.C.

“I was a tomboy, through and through,” she says.

She worked for six years as a profiler for the FBI in the 1960s. It’s where she met her husband, Roland John Amnott.

After spending six years with the FBI in Washington, D.C., she and her husband returned to his family home in Maine where they settled for 20 years.

They retired to Florida until Roland Amnott passed away. Elaine Amnott moved back to Newport News at the insistence of her niece who lives here and she has called The Huntington home since May 2020.

Wendy Malvin

Wendy MalvinWendy Malvin will try to tell you she’s lived at The Huntington “forever.”

She moved in July 2019.

“They treat you really well here,” she said. “They take care of your needs. The food is great.”

Originally from Morehead City, N.C., Mrs. Malvin moved to Newport News when she married her husband, a native of the area, after attending Mary Washington College.

“I love being in Newport News. It’s been my home a long time,” she said.

She was a legal secretary for the law firm of Jones, Blechman, Woltz and Kelly for more than 30 years. She also took on a volunteer administrative director role with People to People, an organization founded by one of the attorneys, Herbert V. Kelly, current Newport News Mayor McKinley Price and other civic leaders in 1992.

People to People worked to improve race relations in the city. Mrs. Malvin was featured in the Daily Press in February 2001 after being honored with People to People’s first Hero Award for her service to the organization. She keeps the clip framed in her apartment at The Huntington.

Ada Ward

Ada WardAda Ward considers herself a “pro” about assisted living communities. She helped her mother, who lived until age 97, navigate moving into assisted living.

“They truly get it right,” she said of The Huntington. The management is considerate and attentive to Residents’ needs.

One of Mrs. Ward’s daughters lives nearby, and she likes the proximity to her family. She appreciates the sense of safety and security Huntington offers.

“I’m very impressed … This is tops,” she said. She moved into the Huntington in February from another assisted living community.

Mrs. Ward is originally from Hampton, and was a buyer for Leggett department stores. She stepped away from that to bring up three children. Her late husband, Don Ward, worked for NASA on the Apollo space program. He spent much of 20 years commuting between NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton and Cape Canaveral, Florida.

“It was a very exciting time for us,” she said.

Everette White

Everette WhiteEverette White is glad to not have to move. After spending a career in the Air Force, he retired after being stationed at Langley AFB in Hampton and has called The Huntington home since October 2015.

He was an entomologist for the Air Force, retiring in 1970 after 21.5 years of service. He then worked in pest control and fumigation in Hampton.

He served in Korea and Vietnam, and he and his family – late wife Mary, a son and two daughters — lived in the Midwest, Morocco, Oklahoma, Germany and Spain during his time in the Air Force.

“We traveled all over Europe,” he said of their being stationed abroad.

“And I’ll never forget, my wife and kids flew into Casablanca dressed for Michigan winter. It was 109 degrees when they got off the plane.”

One of his daughters now lives in Illinois, and his other daughter lives nearby in Hampton, as do some of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. His son passed away.

“I didn’t want to move again,” he said of selecting The Huntington. “I like it here.”

Living at The Hamilton

Rose Marie Hopkins

Rose Marie HopkinsRose Marie Hopkins joined The Hamilton community in October 2019. She moved in following the passing of her husband, Gerald Ray Hopkins in July 2019.

Gerald Ray was the love of her life – they were married for 74 years.

Mrs. Hopkins was born in 1928 in Seaford, Virginia, to a Chesapeake Bay waterman and a stay-at-home mom. Her childhood was spent going to school, playing in the creek and spending time with friends and family.

She graduated from Jeffs High School in 1944 and was named “Prettiest Girl” by her senior classmates. (Jeffs is now Poquoson High School). Back in those days, there were no high schools in York County so Mrs. Hopkins had to travel to Poquoson to complete her education.

After graduating high school, Mrs. Hopkins went to work for the federal government at Naval Weapons Station Yorktown. She learned bookkeeping and was hired to work for the Office of the Comptroller.  After the birth of her four children, Mrs. Hopkins stayed home to care for her family for the next 25 years. When her youngest child was 12, she returned to her career at the Office of the Comptroller and was ultimately promoted to Supervisor.

Mrs. Hopkins’ life has always been focused on three things: faith, family and food.

Her family was a source of joy but also a lot of work!

She has always been the backbone of the family, providing loving care and support as her family grew and thrived. Her cooking ability is legendary and she passed on many of her skills in the kitchen to her children and grandchildren.

Mrs. Hopkins is also a devout Christian and spent many years working in her church, conducting the children’s choir, singing with the adult choir, working with the annual church bazaar and serving on many committees.

She has been a member of Zion United Methodist her entire life and still attends services there.

We are glad to help Mrs. Hopkins call The Hamilton in York County home. She enjoys the outings to restaurants and museums, and visits from her loved ones.