Residents of The Arbors share why they love calling it home

What happens when the rigors of homeownership become too much? For three women residents of The Arbors Independent Living, the answer was moving in.

Without having to worry about home and lawn maintenance, cooking and cleaning, or keeping up with too much space after children had moved out, residents at The Arbors are able to enjoy themselves.

We’re celebrating Joy Week this week and taking advantage of the events the team has planned. Get to know our residents and why they decided to call The Arbors home below.

No more yardwork!

Nancy Sanford knew keeping up with the landscaping in their Hampton home had become too much for her husband. She was ready to find a place to call home that didn’t require so much work. Nancy convinced him after he retired that it was time to downsize to something with less maintenance.

She and her husband moved into The Arbors the end of June 2020.

Her husband still gets to work with his hands outside, but to a manageable degree. He does the landscaping at The Arbors, planting flowers and caring for the hanging baskets and beds.

Bridge is Nancy Sanford’s favorite game and she has found several outlets to play it as an Arbors resident.
Moving to The Arbors

“When we came here, we stopped looking,” Nancy said.

It was small, attractive and the staff was warm and sincere.

“We found a home,” she said. “We love it and wouldn’t change a thing.”

The Sanfords feel safe and enjoy taking walks around Port Warwick. The location is ideal, Nancy said.

The staff is patient and caring, particularly when it comes to helping the aging population, she said.

Living in an apartment “can be isolating,” she said. “You can make it be as homey as you want by never leaving your apartment, but if you did that, you miss the wonderful people and activities here.”

Nancy praised activity director Ora Williams and Chef Akira Johnston on adding life and fun to The Arbors. The food is tasty and the activities keep Nancy going.

She plays in several bridge groups – it’s her favorite game – and while she doesn’t care for Bingo, she does enjoy the company and camaraderie of the people.

“The people are the best part. I can have as much privacy as I want,” she said.

Out of the house
Nancy Sanford retired from being a nurse before moving into The Arbors. She loved being a middle school nurse.

Nancy and her husband were married after college and moved to Hampton in 1959. They met in college, while she attended nursing school in Richmond and he was a student at Randolph-Macon.

Her husband was an aerospace engineer for NASA Langley. While his role involved testing airplane aerodynamics in the wind tunnel, when he went to the gym in those early days on Langley’s campus, he would run into the Mercury 7 astronauts.

Nancy retired from being an RN. She ended her career as a nurse at a middle school, though she said her favorite job as a nurse was the newborn nursery. She worked part-time while raising her children.

Nancy and her husband have three sons and six grandchildren.

Joyce Belote knew she wanted to call The Arbors home once her 10-room home in Newport News became too much.

Ready to make the move

Joyce Belote became an Arbors resident in May 2018, a short while after her husband of 64 years passed away.

Two years before her husband passed away, Joyce already had the notion she was ready to move into something smaller with less maintenance. The 10-room home on the cul-de-sac was too big for the two of them with her children moved out (but still living nearby).

Her husband’s dementia and reluctance to move from where he was comfortable prevented her from taking the next step, but she had on the original visit scoped out the apartment view she wanted to have.

The week of her husband’s passing, that view became available and the Arbors team worked with her to reserve it as she went through the steps of handling the estate.

“I couldn’t be happier here. I have no complaints at all,” she says.

Her sons are within “five minutes of me” and her sister recently purchased a condo across Styron Square where when the leaves fall, they’ll be able to wave at one another from their windows.

Her sister is 17 years younger, “so I’ll have a driver should I stop being able to do that,” she says with a chuckle.

And she is so happy with the location. She didn’t want to look anywhere else when she decided to move into an independent living community because the Arbors is close to everything she wants, including her doctors, shopping and restaurants, and her family.

“The location is fantastic,” she says.

Nesting

Joyce has a lot of interests and collectibles. She was a bridal consultant and keeps many dolls in wedding dresses, including one of Princess Diana, in a curio cabinet in her living room. Each of the dolls has a story and she has presented them to her peers at The Arbors during a “show and tell” in the past year.

Her kitchen is bright and cheery with a strong lemon theme.

“I didn’t start doing it until I moved here. My kitchen at my house was yellow. It had yellow cabinets,” she says. Now the color accents the space of her kitchen at The Arbors as a nod to her Maxwell Gardens home of 54 years.

Joyce has an entire bookshelf of scrapbooks. “I’m a picture freak,” she says. There are family photos and portraits all over the walls, and she loves the digital frame her family gave her where photos of the kids can be uploaded from any device.

She has four granddaughters and two great-grandchildren, including a two-month-old girl who Joyce knitted a blanket for. All of the grandchildren are in their 30s. The youngest she calls “a precious doll.”

Joyce is a big fan of Chef Akira’s food. “She is fabulous. We’re offered great meal options here. I eat very healthy here.”

She says she has a lot of dietary restrictions, but can always find something that satisfies them, and her, on the menu.

“Ora keeps us so busy we don’t know which way is up,” Joyce says of the activity director. “I go to everything that’s going on.”

She can be seen at happy hours, events and outings. Where you won’t find her is playing bridge or bingo. She loves the group she plays Mexican train dominoes with, however.

“Growing up strict Baptist, there weren’t any games. No cards unless it was Old Maid or something, so this was a change,” she says.

She also started the knitting group when she moved in. They meet on Wednesday afternoons and the dominoes group plays on Tuesday nights.

From the beginning

Joyce and her husband are from Newport News. She was a dental assistant before and after raising her children, and later worked as a bridal consultant and at the Village Stitchery in Hilton Village for 10 years until it closed. “I was still working there when I came here,” she says.

She still attends Temple Baptist, where she has been a member for 60 years, and participates in their groups. She hosts her Sunday school class occasionally at The Arbors, which caters the gathering.

Joyce grew up in the Wythe section of Hampton, graduating Hampton High School in 1953.

She met Donnie through a friend of a friend after a night out dancing at the Hampton Country Club. He was just out of the Air Force and attending William and Mary. They married in 1956 and “we were on a shoestring! I probably had as much space in that first apartment as I do now!” They were living on her salary while the GI Bill paid for Donnie’s schooling.

He became a mortgage banker and then a real estate appraiser. Despite adamantly not wanting to follow in their father’s footsteps, both sons are real estate appraisers as well.

“No one has moved from Virginia. I couldn’t keep them all in Newport News, but we’re all in the same state!”

They used to have a home in Nags Head, and now one of her sons purchased a home in Kitty Hawk, so they still are able to take advantage of going to the Outer Banks when the mood strikes.

Happy at home

“I wish more people would give the Arbors a chance,” she says. It really can have a community feel and it isn’t a place where people go to die, but to live, she says.

“This to me is just like being home,” she says. “I didn’t know anybody when I came here.”

When you move, “it’s a relief to your children.” Her sons were completely on board with her decision, and relieved to not have to worry about her living in a large house alone, concerned with its upkeep in and out.

Joyce has taken advantage of VHS Rehabilitation, which is right next door.

“They’ve got a fantastic crew there,” Joyce says. She was discharged after a knee replacement about two years ago and loved that rehab was “right here in the building.”

She says she will be 88 in January and is glad to still be driving. She knows when she no longer can, the transportation options at The Arbors are useful.

Carol Richardson’s passion for quilting is on display throughout her apartment.

Necessary move

Carol Richardson moved into The Arbors about 10 months ago because she says she knew she couldn’t live in her Newport News home from the 1970s.

“It wasn’t wheelchair accessible,” she says. No longer in a wheelchair, she still knew downsizing was the right move for her about four years after her husband’s passing.

Her children left her little choice. She moved into The Arbors after time in a rehabilitation facility where she got back on her feet following a broken leg.

Her son made the arrangements and moved in pieces of furniture, pictures and quilting supplies from her home of about 30 years.

She moved from a four-bedroom home to a studio.

“I made a move I needed to,” she says, adding that while it’s odd to be thankful for breaking her leg, the injury made her realize how necessary it was to downsize to something maintenance-free and accessible.

She was familiar with Port Warwick, but couldn’t place the location of The Arbors until she moved in. Now she takes advantage of the location and takes long walks, usually after dinner. She likes setting goals and has a goal of about 5,500 steps a day. Sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less, but she is happy to be moving.

“It’s a great place to walk,” she says.

“I can cook if I want, but I don’t have to. Noise hasn’t been an issue. Once I figured out the thermostat and adapted to my surroundings, I started to feel good,” she says. “I’m very easy going.”

Moving in

Carol says she has made some friends since moving into The Arbors. She says there is a good balance between maintaining privacy and socializing, being able to do as much or as little as she chooses.

“I like to stay busy,” she says.

She and friend Beverly, who recently moved in, eat together regularly. “She’s 92, and she just says things that make you laugh,” Carol says.

You can always find her enjoying events and outings. She participates in the crafting activities and enjoys starting the day with group exercise class.

“It starts my day off right,” she says.

She says The Arbors is starting to feel like home. She has even started to refer to it as such. She had to make some hard choices about what to bring and what to store or get rid of after selling her home.

Quilting

Carol has a stack of her favorite quilts in a corner, with her most prized piece on the top. She says quilting “always has been my therapy,” but while she was caring for her husband at home the last year of his life, she never even walked into her sewing room. “I don’t know why,” she says.

Following his passing, she and her quilting guild worked on a beautiful piece of bright pinks against a dark backing.

“I’m glad I got my mojo back,” she says. “I’m an artist. I can’t draw worth a lick, but I create art with fabric and thread.”

She also is planning ahead. She’s made a box of eight quilts, one for each grandchild, that resides with her daughter in New Jersey. They are intended for her great-grandchildren when they come along.

Family life

Carol married her high school sweetheart Jimmy in 1967. They were married while she was still in school, and she says her mother let her move out after graduation. They started their family soon after, with a daughter and two sons. Carol has eight grandchildren and shares with pride all they’ve accomplished in their 14 to 26 years.

She was still in a wheelchair when one of her grandsons was playing in his last high school football game. She arranged transportation to Todd Stadium in Newport News.

“Grandma wasn’t going to miss her grandson’s last game,” she says. She’s looking forward to watching him play at Christopher Newport University. “My son already has my ticket.”

Her husband worked for NASA Langley for 36 years.

“He crashed airplanes for a living,” she says, recalling bringing the children to visit the Gantry while their father worked. (You can still see the Gantry on Langley’s campus driving out of Poquoson on Wythe Creek Road. They still crash planes there, too.)

Carol’s passion and interest has been sewing, which she learned how to do at age 9. She spent a good majority of her career after child-rearing in the costume departments of Busch Gardens and the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation.

“That was great fun. I got to make so many interesting costumes!” she says, sharing a few photos of costumes she worked on at Busch Gardens.

Call The Arbors home

With its ideal location and neighbors like Nancy, Joyce and Carol, why wouldn’t you want to call The Arbors home? Visit vahs.com/thearbors to explore our community, view floor plans and schedule a Taste & Tour, where lunch is on us. You also can call 757-933-2621 for information on services, rates and availability.

Hamilton residents love the company

We are celebrating National Assisted Living Week! Our team at The Hamilton Assisted Living will provide plenty of “Joyful Moments” for our Residents. A few residents wanted to share their experiences about what is like to move into and live at The Hamilton, which is located in York County, Virginia.

The Hamilton offers 40 private apartments with kitchenettes. The dining room provides breakfast, lunch and dinner service, and the activity director makes sure the social calendar is always full. A nursing team is available 24/7 to provide peace of mind and assist our Residents.

The Cheerleader

Carolyn Carter just recently started to call The Hamilton home. She has been a Resident since late June.

“It’s super. Everything has been so what I needed. To be with all the nice people and always do something, it’s what I like,” she says.

The former high school cheerleading coach can be found at all of The Hamilton’s events and activities.

“I like to busy, and I like to be around people a lot. I’m a nonstop person,” she says with a chuckle. She keeps her fellow Residents laughing as well.

The socialization aspect of an assisted living center was important to her when she moved.

“The Hamilton is wonderful. This is just what I needed. … I don’t like to stay in my room watching TV. I can do that at night,” she says.

The Martinsville native has a son who lives in Williamsburg and a daughter in Alabama. She has four grandchildren.

“My son is super. He’s always been so good to me,” she says. She lived with her daughter before coming to The Hamilton, saying, “I’m a Virginia girl.”

Feeling safe also was a priority. She says she feels that way at The Hamilton. The attentive staff also make her feel comfortable in her new home.

Comfortable in her home

Eva Roithmeyer starting residing at The Hamilton in May.

“I wanted an assisted living near my children (after my husband died),” she said.

She lives closest to her oldest son, who is an engineer at NASA Langley in Hampton. He and his family live in York County after moving to the area from Houston.

Eva enjoys playing Mexican train dominoes and visits from the therapy dogs!

Eva is originally from Mexico. She was working as bilingual secretary for an American company there when she met her husband, who traveled frequently to the country, through a friend of a friend.

He was a marine biologist for NOAA, and they moved from Morehead City, N.C., to Mississippi and Colorado. She has four children and seven grandchildren, who range in age from 7 to 33.

“I’m very happy with the place and people. … I like my apartment,” she says. “I like most of the activities.”

Eva often can be found in the second-floor activity room playing Mexican train dominoes with friends.

“I had a good life and I’m happy to be here: here in the world and here in this room,” she says with a smile.

The Army veteran

Alfred Richeson is still adjusting to living at The Hamilton.

Richeson served in the Army in Vietnam and then worked for IBM.

“I’d prefer to not be sick, like everyone in this room,” he says.

A man of the world, the Army veteran served in Vietnam as a member of the 82nd Airborne. After retiring from the Army in 1980, he spent 20 years working for IBM.

He was first assigned to Germany, and has lived all over the world thanks to his careers, including in Hong Kong, Toyoko, New York and Washington, D.C.

The West Point graduate is originally from Colorado and moved “to get as far away from Colorado as I could.”

He has two sons, one of whom lives in North Carolina, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren with another “on the way.”

Call our home your home

Learn more about our community and schedule a tour by visiting vahs.com/thehamilton or call 757-933-2621 for information on services, rates and availability. Our website has floor plans and details about our community.

Huntington residents feel at ease at home

We are celebrating National Assisted Living Week! Our team at The Huntington Assisted Living will provide plenty of “Joyful Moments” for our Residents. A few residents wanted to share their experiences about what is like to move into and live at The Huntington, which is located in Newport News, Virginia. Its “yard” is the Mariners’ Museum Park.

The Huntington offers 32 private apartments with kitchenettes. The dining room provides breakfast, lunch and dinner service, and the activity director makes sure the social calendar is always full. A nursing team is available 24/7 to provide peace of mind and assist our Residents.

Loving life

Karen Waldfogel moved into The Huntington about two years ago. She recovered from an injury at The Newport Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, which is next door, and it became clear she needed more care than her support team at home could provide.

Karen enjoys our outings!

“I wanted to go home, but I can’t. I like it here,” she says.

She says the Huntington team is excellent, caring and considerate. The food “is coming along” and is usually tasty. She really likes the lasagna and pizza.

“(Activity Director) April is good to us, she always finds something fun for us to do,” she says. “If we didn’t have April, we wouldn’t know what to do.”

Karen enjoys the arts and crafts sessions with volunteers Martha and Jerry Dodson once a month.

She also has had a great experience with the VHS Rehabilitation therapists onsite.

“They’re just super,” she says. “I can get around pretty good now.”

The camaraderie with the fellow Huntington residents is genuine.

“I’ve made a lot of friends here,” she says, including her best friend who resides at The Newport.

Family life

Karen moved here with her family in 1965 when her father was transferred to NASA Langley in Hampton from Houston. He worked on the Galileo program, which explored Jupiter and its moons. He previously worked for Boeing and the family bounced from their native home of Lansing, Michigan, to various places including Seattle, California and Alabama.

“He was an amazing man,” she says. He passed away last year. She has a brother who lives with their 91-year-old mother nearby. Her mother was a nurse and she has two brothers and two sisters.

“My mom picks me up to go to church on Saturdays,” she says, when community rates of COVID-19 are lower. They attend Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

Karen has a daughter and three grandsons. She had a son who has passed away.

A room of one’s own

Marjorie Barnes was admitted after an injury for skilled rehabilitation at The Newport Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in 2018. She moved into the attached Huntington to continue her rehab.

Marjorie loves having her own space.

While she has been debating moving back to her home with her daughter, she loves her privacy and living space at The Huntington.

“Gotta hang on to something that’s mine,” she says of not being ready to sell her house to her daughter yet. She adds, “I just want my kids to live their lives.”

She enjoys her friends at The Huntington and the food. “I love the soup,” she says.

“I’ve been in Newport News for quite a while now,” she says. She and her husband moved to the area when he was transferred by the Army to Fort Eustis. He spent most of his career there, save for about two years the family moved to the base in the Azores.

“It was really nice,” she says. Most of her children – there were five kids – were school age while in the Azores. “The children really enjoyed it.”

She has several grandchildren – “too many to remember.”

“All of my children are so nice to me,” she says.

Call our home your home

Learn more about our community and schedule a tour by visiting vahs.com/thehuntington or call 757-933-2621 for information on services, rates and availability. Our website has floor plans and details about our community.

VHS Residents benefit from pet therapy by Therapy Dogs International volunteers

He has a business card with his picture on it. He carries around individual’s stories about their lives, what they’ve witnessed and what they think. And he wears a tie.

Trey is a 7-year-old Pomeranian with Therapy Dogs International.

Meet Trey, a 7-year-old Pomeranian who works with owner and handler Jean Nohle, the Peninsula chapter director of Therapy Dogs International.

There are 39 dogs and 32 handlers in the Peninsula chapter, which runs from Williamsburg to Hampton and Gloucester and all points in between. They also assist with events Southside, such as after the mass shooting in Virginia Beach in 2019.

The dogs and their handlers visit Residents at Virginia Health Services’ assisted living communities and nursing and rehabilitation centers. Each visit sparks a smile from the Residents and Team Members who look forward to seeing them each week.

“It’s rewarding work for us, for the employees, for the volunteers and for the dogs,” Jean says. “It’s a win-win situation all around.”

What is Therapy Dogs International?

Therapy Dogs International (TDI) is a volunteer organization. The primary purpose of its dogs and handlers is to “provide comfort and companionship by sharing the dog with patients in hospitals, nursing homes and other institutions and wherever else the therapy dog is needed.”

Jean says the dogs will go wherever they are needed to provide comfort.

Not all dogs are meant to be in TDI, and not all situations are meant for all dogs.

“We never force our dogs to anybody,” Jean says. “You’ve got to read your dog.”

Benefits of pet therapy

Studies have shown pet-assisted therapy benefits individuals.

“It’s been proven the dogs reduce blood pressure, heart rate, improve frame of mind,” Jean says. “They work with people who have had strokes, and the (dogs) can help (individuals) relearn movements to pet the dog or walk to a dog.”

Jean said the organization gets a lot of requests for visits to first responders, such as clinical staffs, firefighters, police officers and EMTs.

Jeff is a volunteer with Therapy Dogs International. His mother is a Resident at The Hamilton Assisted Living. He brings Auggie over frequently to visit with Residents and Team Members at The Hamilton and York Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. He also makes visits to other nursing homes, including those within the VHS family, as called on.

He says it’s a great program. He and Auggie have been with the program for a few months.

TDI in VHS communities

Dogs and handlers keep to a schedule with Virginia Health Services’ communities, including The Hamilton and The Huntington Assisted Living, and Coliseum, James River, The Newport and York Nursing and Rehabilitation Centers.

Jean Nohle and Trey are volunteers with the Peninsula chapter of Therapy Dogs International.

“You’re making a commitment; those people look for you,” Jean says of the schedule. “For some, these dogs are their family.”

Team Members also keep an eye out for their four-legged visitors.

“They look for them, they need them,” Jean says. Trey, for example, has two nurses he races to every time he sees them at The Newport.

“We’ve been with some of our patients for a long, long time,” Jean says. Dogs and handlers have been to funerals, both to offer support to surviving family members and to help provide closure to the dogs.

“They know,” she says when someone they developed a relationship with passes. In addition to nursing homes, TDI also does work with individuals in hospice care.

Background story

Jean has been with TDI for 19 years.

“My mother had stroke and was in nursing home for four years,” she says. “I saw the volunteers, what they did for the Residents, and said, ‘I’m going to pay this back.’”

Leading the TDI chapter here is how she says she does that. She is a licensed evaluator for the dog and handler training and coordinates extreme situation training with members of the community.

She also is a trainer at Perfect Paws Pet Training.

VHS thanks its Nursing Assistants for all their hard work and dedication

It is National Nursing Assistants Week June 16-22, 2022, and Career Nursing Assistants Day on June 16. Virginia Health Services celebrates its nursing assistants and CNAs (certified nurse aides) for the dedicated care they provide to our Residents at our independent living and assisted living communities and nursing and rehabilitation centers, and the individuals we serve with VHS Home Health Care and VHS Hospice.

We are thankful for their guidance, expertise, patience and advocacy. VHS is committed to investing in its Team Members from the start, offering an earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program that provides classroom and hands-on experience to Care Assistants. Once graduated to Nurse Aide, the program also covers the cost of the certification exam.

“They are essential to long-term care,” says VHS education instructor Nora Gillespie of nursing assistants. “They are the eyes and ears for the nurses. They spend the most time with the Residents.”

CNAs have been on the frontlines since World War I, when certified nurses’ aides with the American Red Cross worked alongside Army nurses to treat wounded soldiers.

Virginia Health Services has several Team Members who have spent years dedicated to providing care in our facilities as CNAs.

VHS relies on them to be ambassadors and help train new employees on the floor. We spoke with three longtime CNAs with Virginia Health Services about their experiences.

Carrie Isaac has been a CNA at The Newport Nursing and Rehabilitation Center for 30 years.

Carrie Isaac, The Newport

Carrie has worked as a CNA with VHS for 30 years at The Newport Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. What’s kept her in her role for this long?

“My motivation to care for people, love and take care of them … sometimes we’re the last ones they see,” she says. “The smiles on their face keeps me going.”

She is a Senior Ambassador and trains newcomers to the role.

“You have to be a people person,” Carrie says of becoming a CNA. “You have to care about people and treat them well. At the end of the day, when you leave here, know you’ve done your job well.”

Carrie says the focus on the Residents, even the smallest touch like taking care in how they are dressed and brushing their teeth, can help them have a better day.

“It’s rewarding to make them happy at the end of the day,” she says.

“They know. They know if you miss a step. When I’m off, I come back in and they say, ‘I missed you,’ and that makes me feel good. That means a lot.”

James River vet

Bonnie King started with James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in 1996 (though she had a brief hiatus in 2000).

“Me as a CNA, it’s a calling for me. Every day I step in that door, I know that’s where I’m supposed to be,” she says.

She’s had dreams of attending nursing school and a desire to be an RN.

“At 61, I’m not saying it can’t be done, but it would be challenging,” she says. “As a CNA, I just enjoy it.”

Bonnie is a Senior Ambassador for VHS and helps train newcomers to the floor.

“You have to come in with an open heart and an open mind, and patience and respect,” she says she tells new hires. “And I think with those things working in this field, that would get you through it. … You have to have respect (for Residents and Team Members) and be willing to help.”

She says Virginia Health Services has been supportive from when she started through now.

“James River, on a personal level and on a professional level, they have always been there for me,” she says. “Once you show yourself as a worker, that means a lot to the company.”

Years of experience at Walter Reed

Karen Hudgins has been a CNA at Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center since October 1979.

Karen Hudgins

“I like my work,” she says. “I love the stories (the Residents) tell.”

In her years at Walter Reed, she has cared for three individuals who survived concentration camps during the Holocaust. She’s learned about patents created by individuals in her care, and cared for a woman who wrote a book and signed it for Karen about her father’s time running steamboats.

“People forget that those people in the nursing center that did something that made a difference. ‘Cause you have to look at the real picture, you learn things about them that made a big difference in the world,” she says.

She works with another longtime Walter Reed CNA, Marva Hodges. Together, Hudgins says, they helped “break in” now Administrator Bryant Hudgins while he was an aide at Walter Reed.

Marva has been a CNA at Walter Reed for 39 years. “I always tell people, no, I didn’t come with the building,” she says with a laugh.

Marva Hodges

She is a restorative aide part-time, but a majority of time, she says she’s on the floor because of staffing. She’s an Elite Ambassador, and has been a senior aide on the Ward unit, and was a nursing secretary and unit secretary. As an Elite Ambassador, she had to do the restorative program and trains Care Assistants and new Nurse Aides, and assists with orientation.

“I’m really a people person, not really a desk person,” she says. “I love the patients, I like being in the mix with them.”

Marva says she can go on any unit in the building and “pretty much anyone knows who I am, just by my eyes (because the mask covers so much of her face).”

Residents matter most

To keep going in this role so long, all three said the Residents keep them motivated.

“I just love old people, that’s all. You can learn so much from them. … You see their faces when their people come in, they light up,” Karen says.

When a new hire is being orientated, Karen offers these words of advice: “Just remember one thing: They’re real people. And they did make a difference.”

Be patient, Marva says.

“Realize who you are working with. I remind them that the patient may not be able to give complete information because of their (health conditions). Learn how to talk to them, keep them calm and figure out how to redirect them.”

Carrie says the main things are the Residents and working together as a team.

“If the atmosphere is happy, they’re happy,” she says.

Join our team

We are looking for CNAs to grow with us. Visit vahs.com/careers to apply for a satisfying career with our team.

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 Ohio). 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 providences of Canada and several National Parks, including Yellowstone and Yosemite.

Vince also is a big baseball fan, and roots for 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.

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.