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.

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.