VHS Dining and Nutrition Director shares fresh summertime recipe for Culinary Month

July is Culinary Month, and the Virginia Health Services Director of Dining and Nutrition Christina Lewis shared a recipe to encourage you to take advantage of the abundant summer harvest during grilling season.

This salad is easy to make and combines two of the best summertime activities — grilling and taking advantage of the abundance of fresh, ripe peaches! Any of the stone fruits that are ripe in summer — peaches, apricots, plums and nectarines — are great on the grill.

Grilling helps to bring out the natural sweetness of the fruits, and the warmth of the grilled fruits is a great contrast to the cool crispness of the lettuce.

We hope you indulge in this summer’s offerings with this salad!

Grilled Peach and Goat Cheese Salad with Honey Lemon Vinaigrette

Recipe card for the Honey Lemon Vinaigrette

For the vinaigrette


  • Zest of one Lemon
  • 1/4 cup Lemon Juice
  • 1 teaspoon Honey Mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon Black Pepper
  • 1/4 cup Honey
  • 3/4 cup Olive Oil

Combine lemon zest, lemon juice, honey mustard, black pepper and honey in a blender. With blender running on slow speed, slowly pour in olive oil until emulsified. Store in refrigerator until ready to use. Makes about 1 cup.

Recipe card for Grilled Peach and Goat Cheese Salad

For the salad


  • 4 Ripe Peaches
  • 1 tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1/4 cup Red Onion
  • 6 ounces Mixed Salad Greens
  • 1/2 cup Goat Cheese
  • 1/2 cup Toasted Pecans

Heat grill to 450 degrees or medium-high heat. Slice peaches in half and remove pit. Brush peach halves with olive oil and place on prepared grill until desired grill marks appear and peaches have softened. Remove peaches from grill and let cool.

Once peaches have cooled, slice each half into four to six slices and set aside. While peaches are cooling, finely slice red onion and combine with mixed salad greens. Crumble goat cheese over salad greens. Add chopped pecans and sliced peaches, add prepared dressing and toss lightly to combine.

Dining and Nutrition at VHS

The Virginia Health Services Dietary and Nutrition Department serves residents at our senior living communities and nursing and rehabilitation centers. It also offers nutritional services to individuals in our care with VHS Home Health and VHS Hospice.

The department is overseen by the Director of Dining and Nutrition.

Our team provides culinary oversight and fresh meals for our senior living residents. The lunch and dinner menu are refreshed monthly and feature dishes with seasonal ingredients at The Arbors Independent Living. Our team relies on residents’ input in developing a dining experience that caters to them. The dining director often hosts cooking demonstrations to help our residents stay healthy when they utilize their apartment kitchens.

Dietary managers at each of the assisted living communities and nursing centers meet with new admissions to determine nutritional and dietary needs, and resident preferences. They are responsible for daily meals, snacks and beverage service.

Eight apprentices graduate to Nurse Aides in December 2022 cohort

Virginia Health Services celebrated the graduation of its latest class of eight apprentices with a ceremony at The Arbors Independent Living on Friday, Dec. 16, 2022. It was followed by a reception at the education center.

The earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship graduates Care Assistants to Nurse Aides and covers the cost of the certification exam to be a Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA). The apprenticeship is a six-week course that includes classroom education and onsite clinical skills labs. The students take 14 tests and learn 22 skills. After graduation, the students also go through review sessions at the education center before taking the certification exam.

The graduates will be employed with VHS at York, Northampton and James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Centers.

VHS Vice President June Barbery gave opening remarks to the gathered students and family at Friday’s graduation.

“Nurse aides are more important than most people realize,” she said. “They have the most contact with the people who come to our facilities.

“Thank you for going through the course. I also want to give you a future thank you for wanting to take care of people and continuing to represent VHS.”

Instructor Nora Gillespie addresses the class of eight graduates, seated, wearing navy blue scrubs.
Instructor Nora Gillespie addresses the class of eight graduates during a ceremony Friday, Dec. 16, 2022, at The Arbors Independent Living.

The graduates

Instructor Nora Gillespie, RN, and Director of Education Princess Henderson, RN, spoke about each of the eight grads, noting their compassion, respect and ethical behavior while on the job.

“This group really was a team,” Nora said. “They lift up the Residents. They care about you because you care about them.”

Princess restated the role’s importance to the nursing team.

“It’s never easy. They are the foundation of our nursing team,” she said. “We’re proud to have them join VHS. This group all have qualities of great healthcare leaders.”

The graduates were: Latesha Bryant, Cassandra Cary, Cindy Douglas, Daizhane Hunter, Briana Pierce, Mikayla Washington, Christopher Williams and Cortney Wynne.

Latesha put her best foot forward, Princess said.

Cassandra was a “calming presence and was gentle in clinicals,” Princess said, with Nora adding, “Heart and compassion oozes out of her.”

The mother hen of the group was Cindy, who help keep her classmates and instructors in line as a “natural nurturer.” She was awarded the Clinical Superlative by Princess, who said “there is nothing she wouldn’t do for those patients.”

Daizhane, whose mother works at James River, “took great care of her patients,” Princess said.

Briana leads with her heart and “kept our spirits high,” her instructors said.

Nora said Mikayla “did me proud.” Princess added she did an “excellent job with her patients and I see her as a nurse leader.”

Salutatorian Christopher is a medication aide at The Hamilton Assistant Living. He took the course to further his skill set in patient care and had perfect attendance. He wants to be a RN.

“You are invaluable,” Nora said of the class.

The valedictorian

Valedictorian Cortney Wynne gives her speech.
Cortney Wynne gives her valedictorian address during Friday’s ceremony.

Cortney Wynne was the valedictorian of the class. She recently left a career in the Army to start a career in healthcare. (She also is expecting.)

She aced every test and was always on time.

“She meshed well with this group and gave it 100%,” Princess said. Nora added Cortney nailed every skill – and those skills will “open every door.”

Courtney gave a speech to celebrate the honor.

“When I first started the program, I didn’t know what to expect. I was nervous to start in a new field,” she said. “… I have enjoyed getting to know each and every one of you. … I have learned in life when you share certain experiences with people, it brings you closer together. This should be a good start for all of us. I couldn’t have chosen a better group to start my next chapter with.”

Join our team

Virginia Health Services is committed to this program and supporting its participants. We are now accepting applications for our January class. How to apply and the 2023 course dates are available at vahs.com/apprenticeship.

VP of Quality & Clinical Revenue Integrity celebrates 25 years with VHS

Jennifer Dick, the VHS Vice President of Quality and Clinical Revenue Integrity, celebrates her 25th service anniversary this month. She started working with Virginia Health Services shortly after graduating from Mary Baldwin College with a degree in healthcare administration in 1996.

She was hired as an assistant administrator at James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. Since, Jennifer has been the administrator at York, associate administrator at James River and has overseen quality and clinical revenue integrity for a majority of her VHS career, adding the Vice President title in the past couple of years.

She and her team work closely with the clinical staffs at all VHS nursing centers.

Team development

The crux of Jennifer’s job is evaluating and training team members on programs and tools to effectively measure quality assurance and maximize revenue.

“Jennifer’s always tried to get the best tools in front of clinical staff, and leverage the tools that we have,” said Rebecca Boyd, VHS Vice President of Nursing. “She’s done the research … to make sure we’ve had the best product in front of staff.”

Jennifer has been integral to training VHS team members throughout her career. Several long-time employees have worked with her, including Administrators Nikki Clements (Northampton), Sharon Robins and Bryant Hudgins (Walter Reed), who was Jennifer’s managed care coordinator while a nurse at James River.

“She trains the staff on the use of technology and gets them to embrace and maximize its functionality,” Boyd said.

Jennifer said she has had a hand in developing staff and advancing technology for the team.

“I train a lot on technology,” she said. “You have to empower people to make their own decisions, and you have to have the right facts. … Part of it is really giving people clear directions.”

Measuring success

Jennifer’s focus on training clinical staff on technology has been at the crux of her role with VHS.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) rates facilities with weighted star rankings in areas including staffing, health inspection and quality measures. Jennifer and her team have worked diligently with the staff at the long-term care centers to learn those measures.

She says she is a cheerleader for the team and holds them accountable.

“Ratings are up across the board,” she said. “We’re improving, for the most part. … We’re very proud of that accomplishment for our team.”

To do the job well, she said you have to be able to prioritize and be high energy.

“COVID was a definite challenge for us. Long-term care was never technology-focused before the pandemic. … We’ve come leaps and bounds since then trying to leverage technology to help us make better decisions,” she said.

Growing with VHS

Jennifer said in her 25 years she also has been “surrounded with a lot of good people with good intentions, good hearts and who want to work hard.

“You kind of become family,” she said. “VHS has always offered support from anyone in the company. You’re never on your own. …That’s why you’re here. In a pinch, there’s a lot of people who have your back. That’s reassuring.”

Originally from North Carolina, she also has lived in Texas and Richmond.

When she’s not working, she is supporting and encouraging her daughters, ages 7 and 9, in their various activities, which includes sailing with Hampton Yacht Club and club field hockey.

Jennifer also is a member of the Junior League of Hampton Roads and the Hampton Roads Garden Club.

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.

Virginia Health Services celebrates National Activity Professionals Week

We are celebrating National Activity Professionals Week (Jan. 23-29) by spotlighting our Activity Directors at Virginia Health Services senior living communities and nursing and rehabilitation centers.

Activity directors run recreation programs that are Resident-focused. Event and activities cater to Residents’ tastes and activity directors receive Residents’ input. The programs help Residents exercise their cognitive, sensory and motor skills.

Activity directors also drive employee engagement within their communities, helping with employee-centered events and activities to bolster morale and provide stress relief.

It’s not just fun and games! As our Activity Directors describe in their Q&As below, they are an integral part of care planning for Residents.

Meet our Activity Directors:

The Arbors Independent Living

Arbors Activity Director Ora Williams headshot

The Arbors Activity Director Ora Williams recently joined us from The Hamilton.


Ora Williams has been with Virginia Health Services for about two years. She has been with The Hamilton Assisted Living through this month, and has moved to direct activities at The Arbors Independent Living. She says she loves to have fun with seniors!

She focuses on customer service, respect and love when supporting her fellow team members and Residents. She pays attention to the small details to make sure things go well for Residents and families. Her source of inspiration when planning activities comes from talking to the Residents. She listens to their input in creating calendars that are catered to their needs and interests.

Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Coliseum Activity Director Haley Holland pictured on a mountaintop with her dog Millie.

Coliseum Activity Director Haley Holland often brings in her dog Millie, shown here, to provide pet therapy to Residents and team members.


Years with Virginia Health Services: 1.5 years.

What drew you to a career in recreation services in long-term care? When I graduated college, I had no idea what population I wanted to work with. My first job was in an assisted living/memory care facility and I’ve never looked back. Working with older adults is truly my passion!

How do you support the center’s team and Residents? The recreation team at Coliseum is always coming up with fun programs, for Residents and the team members here. Our office door is always open for anyone who wants to pop in and chat. A favorite part of my job is the relationship you get to build with everyone in the facility.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? How active and FUNNY the Residents are. The Residents ALWAYS keep me on my toes.

Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? I’m a huge Pinterest/activity connection supporter. Most of the crafts/games come from there! I usually adapt it in some way to make it better for the Residents. Coliseum is a huge fan of doing “national holidays,” especially when it comes to sweet treats! Our Residents are also a huge inspiration for programs, we like to pull hobbies from their lives and make it a program, for example, flower arranging for our gardeners, or baking for our residents who used to bake.

Personal details: I really enjoy reading, hiking, binge-watching Netflix, and spending time with my husband and dog in my free time!

The Huntington Assisted Living & The Newport Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Huntington and Newport Activity Director April VanDyke, pictured by the Huntington's indoor fireplace.

April VanDyke pulls double-duty, serving as the Activity Director for The Huntington Assisted Living and The Newport Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Newport News.


Years with Virginia Health Services: 17.5.

What drew you to a career in recreation services in long-term care? My Mom. She is a nurse and has always worked in long-term care settings. A wonderful trait I have of hers is caring for others. I started off as a CNA with Virginia Health Services and then worked in different areas before activities.

How do you support the center’s team and Residents?  I try to help staff with morale and keep new exciting things going for the residents.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? Activities is different because you get to see and know Residents and sometimes bring out a different side of them than others see.

Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? Social media groups, Pinterest, Residents and co-workers.

Personal details: I have been married for 19 years. I have a 15-year-old son who plays football and I enjoy being his No. 1 fan at all of his games. I have two dogs, Kap and Harley. I enjoy spending time with my family.

James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

James River Activity Director Shawn Hanberry headshot

James River Activity Director Shawn Hanberry starting volunteering with senior populations before high school.


Years with Virginia Health Services: Almost six years. At James River about 25 years all together.

What drew you to a career in recreation services in long-term care? Volunteering. My mother was a CNA at what was called Heritage Place Assisted Living in Poquoson (which is now Dominion Village of Poquoson) in the earlier years of her career and instead of getting a babysitter she would bring me to work with her. I volunteered in the activities department there and when I was in high school, I was a bingo volunteer through the Key Club.

How do you support the center’s team and Residents? Always treat everyone as equals and you will go far.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? The amount of charting.

Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? From my Residents and what they like.

Lancashire Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Lancashire Activity Director Tara Simmons pictured in front of artwork in her office.

Lancashire Activity Director Tara Simmons uses her art background to generate engaging activities for Residents.


Years with Virginia Health Services: 2 this spring.

What drew you to a career in recreation services in long-term care? I started working in Recreation Services 20 years ago when I saw a job advertising the opportunity to have “fun with seniors” and I could not resist the opportunity. I started as an activity assistant at another local facility here in Lancaster County and moved into a director position over the years. I think it’s incredibly rewarding to be able to be the Residents’ advocate and find ways to make their lives better.

How do you support the center’s team and Residents?  Activity professionals often get to know our Residents and the staff in a different way than most of the team; I can be an ear to listen, a friend to confide in, and a cheerleader to brighten their days.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? The paperwork! I think a lot of folks think activity professionals just play all day. We are more than just the bingo and crayon folks. We have a lot of paperwork that supports the Residents and is required by the state. We attend a lot of important meetings and are heavily involved in advocating for the Residents with Resident Council as well.

Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? With 20 years of doing this job, I use a lot of my history and the community of other activity professionals that are online. Each community is different and what works for one place won’t always work for another. It’s often the Residents at my community who lead to new ideas by expressing what they want!

Personal details: I have my degree in fine art and design and I am often working on my own art projects on the weekends. I have an entire ceramics studio set up in my basement. I am also working on my master’s degree in healthcare administration, so when I am not creating art, I am working hard on my classes.

Northampton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Northampton Activity Director Charlene Craig pictured near her office

Northampton Activity Director Charlene Craig has been with VHS for 32 years.


I have been with Virginia Health Services for 32 years. I started off as a nursing assistant in 1989 then started with activities in 2020.  I am a team player with the staff and enjoy one-on-one visits with Residents, and bringing a smile to everyone’s face. I get my inspiration from my peers. In my spare time, I like to hang out with my dogs and have my own paint business with my man.

Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center


Hi, I am Julie P. Boothe, the Recreational Director at Walter Reed Nursing and Rehab Center. I am a military brat and moved around/traveled most of my young life both in the US and overseas, I love nature and the outdoors.

Walter Reed Activity Director Julie Boothe's headshot

Walter Reed Activity Director Julie Boothe has community support in many activities and donations for Residents.

I have goats, chickens, turkeys, dogs and cats that keep me very busy. I have been married 40 years and have been blessed with 2 boys and their families. I believe every day is a gift from God and we should enjoy each and every one that he grants us.

I have been with Virginia Health Services for 28 wonderful years. I was drawn to the field by my compassion for the elderly population given to me by God. I help the elderly retain their dignity, lifestyle activities choices and self-worth through visits and activities. My activity team and volunteers engage our residents in activities like bingo, games, socials, music entertainment, gardening and churches (and more) within the facility. Then out in the community we eat out, go to movies, go shopping, cookouts, picnics, fishing trips and even see the Christmas lights.

One of our big trips was going out with the Coast Guard on their ship and being served lunch cooked up by their chef. We also did some fishing. Our community is a big part of our activity program and I so greatly appreciate their involvement. The stories the Residents share are funny and interesting. I remember talking to a resident in the past about Route 17 and she remembered when it was a dirt road. Another resident remembers seeing a vehicle for the first time coming over a hill and not knowing they even existed. By talking with the Residents, you find out what they like to do which is where a lot of your inspirations and ideas come from. It is fun comparing the past with the present. It has truly been a pleasure being a part of the Walter Reed family. Looking forward to the future.

York Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

York Activity Director Mary Garrity headshot

York Activity Director Mary Garrity helped deliver gifts to Residents at Christmas.


Years with Virginia Health Services: 5 (in March).

What drew you to a career in recreation services in long-term care? The elderly have always had a place in my heart. I started my career at a senior center 20-plus years ago and have worked in several long-term facilities. I love to see the Residents happy and smiling, I love to challenge the Residents with word games and trivia, and I love to see the Residents dancing and singing

How do you support the center’s team and Residents? I support the team by helping where ever I can, having dress-down days, games and contests for the staff and Residents. We have become family and do whatever they need or want.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? Of all the many hats we wear, we help by serving meals, getting water for the Residents, being a good listener … all the little things that Residents need, including decorating for Christmas and other holidays.

Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? From the Residents’ likes and dislikes. Every facility is different and has different cultures. I use online resources like Activity Connection and share ideas with other activity professionals

Personal details: I love going to the beach, reading, interior decorating and furniture restoration.

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.

Sixth Virginia Health Services apprenticeship cohort graduates

The sixth cohort of Virginia Health Services apprentices graduated Tuesday at The Arbors at Port Warwick. The group began its earn-as-you-learn training program in early November.

The program includes classroom and clinical instruction to graduate Care Assistants to Nurse Aides.

Tuesday’s eight graduates will work in Virginia Health Services nursing and rehabilitation centers at York and Northampton.

The education staff will help schedule review sessions and certification exams for them to become CNAs.

It was instructor Nora Gillespie’s last full-time CNA class. She is working with instructor Princess Henderson on transitioning teaching responsibilities.

“You guys are sending me off on the best possible note,” she told the graduates.

Nikkya Cohens delivers her valedictorian remarks with the support of her classmates and instructor Nora Gillespie

Nikkya Cohens delivers her valedictorian remarks with the support of her classmates and instructor Nora Gillespie.

The graduates

Gillespie, as she has for the previous five graduations, spoke in superlatives about the students to friends and family in attendance.

She told the graduates she is proud of them, and that they demonstrated to her they have a willingness to do what it takes in the role.

“These women had each other’s backs,” she said. “They helped each other get across the finish line.”

Gillespie called valedictorian Nikkya Cohens a “role model” in awarding her a certificate.

“I’ve never met a bunch of women that allow me to be me. Women can be challenging to be around in large numbers and they were not that. They were supportive and extremely funny and that’s a value I always cherish. They ooze camaraderie in every sense of the word. Their spirit stays with me after class,” Cohens said in her valedictorian remarks.

Brittany Hodges gets a hug from instructor Nora Gillespie during the graduation ceremony Dec. 7, 2021.

Brittany Hodges gets a hug from instructor Nora Gillespie during the graduation ceremony Dec. 7, 2021.

VHS Vice President of Operations Don Lundin delivered opening remarks, saying Virginia Health Services is glad to be a part of their education and career journeys.

“This is the beginning, the first step,” he said.

Gillespie, who has likened the program to “CNA bootcamp,” explained that there are 14 tests and 22 skills the students learn over the five-week span.

“You nailed 22 skills,” she told the graduates, “and I couldn’t be more proud.”

She calls CNAs the foundation of long-term care. Their role means they interact most with Residents and are the eyes and ears for the nursing staff on the floor.

“To do the job, you have to heart and compassion,” she said. The students’ “first intent was to bring joy when you entered a Resident’s room.”

The class could be found wiping their eyes any number of times during the ceremony.

“I always make people cry,” Gillespie said.

The graduates were: Cohens, salutatorian Josie Wood, Giavanni Bailey, Brittany Hodges, Quentisha Norvell, Hope Overton, Shayla Shupin and Tomeka Williams.

“You can change a life, you can touch a life,” Gillespie said.

VHS apprenticeship program

The VHS earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program is part of the Healthcare Apprenticeship Extension Program, which is partially funded by a grant from the Department of Labor.

Apprenticeship students are brought on as Care Assistants and spend about 30 days working in a VHS nursing and rehabilitation center before coursework and clinicals begin. Following completion of the classes, students then return to work at a facility and undergo review sessions to prepare for the state certification exam to become a Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA).

The apprenticeship program covers the cost of the course and clinical work, and the cost of the exam. It also provides the benefit of Family Scholarship House, which can offer resources and funds to help cover academic coaching, affordable housing, transportation, child care, emergencies and more. It is available to those in the HAEP grant program at no additional cost.

The VHS apprenticeship program recently expanded to include pathways in dietary and housekeeping.

Previous cohorts graduated in AprilJuneJuly, September and October.

Learn more about the program here.

Applications to the program are accepted on a rolling basis. To apply, visit our job listing.

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 apprentices reflect on experience so far

National Apprenticeship Week is Nov. 15-21. Virginia Health Services used the week to highlight graduates from the Care Assistant to Nurse Aide earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program.

The apprenticeship includes paid training and covers the cost of the state certification exam to be a CNA.

The program has had five classes graduate this year, with a sixth cohort currently in progress. Students get about a month of paid classroom and clinical training, and VHS employs graduates in our nursing and rehabilitation centers following graduation.

The success of the program has led to Virginia Health Services developing a full Career Advancement Program (CAP) to grow its workforce in culinary and environmental services as well with additional paid training and leadership development.

This week, current employees in culinary and environmental services were invited to partake in the program.

Virginia Health Services participates in the Healthcare Apprenticeship Expansion Program (HAEP), which is funded with a Department of Labor grant. The apprenticeship offers paid, on-the-job training.

Our graduates

Michael Polite, James River

VHS apprentice Michael PoliteMichael Polite is a Nurse Aide at James River Convalescent and Rehabilitation Center. He started in environmental services at James River, then enrolled in the apprenticeship program.

He says he was drawn to senior care after helping care for his grandmother.

The September graduate is studying for the state boards, and is confident he’ll pass because of his training with VHS instructor Nora Gillespie. The training program includes classwork and learning 22 clinical skills.

“You use everything she teaches you,” he said of his daily routine. “She really emphasizes dignity and respect, and so if I can put a smile (on a Resident’s face), when I walk out of the room, I feel like I’ve done my job.”

Jessica Campbell & Devyn Hotop, CNAs, The Newport

Jessica Campbell and Devyn Hotop are CNAs at The Newport. They were in the third apprenticeship cohort that graduated in July and they passed their certification exam in September.

Hotop, the class salutatorian, said being in the program made her realize she wants to be in healthcare.

“I think what really stood out was clinical (skills on the floor),” Hotop said. “and just how happy everybody was with our care and the way they are doing. And the patients were just motivating us throughout the whole process. I think that made me feel good. I want to be here, it made me want to do it. And definitely having the help from one another.”

Campbell and Hotop bonded fast in class and now as coworkers. They rely on one another during shifts and like working together. Both say they can hear instructor Nora Gillespie’s voice in the back of their minds, encouraging them and walking them through all the steps they learned in class.

Both say they feel supported in their roles at The Newport. Campbell and Hotop said their CNA training has them interested in pursuing nursing career paths as an LPN or RN.

“It’s all worth it,” Hotop said.

Donae Mcdonald, York

Donae Mcdonald is a Nurse Aide at York Convalescent and Rehabilitation Center. She was in the fifth cohort and graduated in October.

Mcdonald’s class was co-taught by instructors Nora Gillespie and Princess Henderson. They made an impact on her. “Ms. Nora and Princess are great teachers and VHS has a good program,” she said.

It was the earn-as-you-learn paid training that Mcdonald said drew her to the opportunity. She is exploring nursing school options, and enrolled in pre-requisite classes with Thomas Nelson Community College.

She says the apprenticeship program is “a great opportunity because at first you are here (as a Care Assistant) and shadowing a Nurse Aide, and I feel like at that point you can see if there’s something that is beneficial for you.”

Dana Turner, CNA, York

VHS apprentice Dana TurnerDana Turner, who is a CNA at York, was in the third cohort and graduated in July.

Instructor Nora Gillespie said she was like bubbles and champagne, with her positivity just radiating out toward the Residents she worked with on the floor during clinicals.

She’s still bubbly now, having passed her certification exam and fulfilling a dream decades in the making. After spending more than 10 years housekeeping in hospitality, she is working in senior care as a CNA.

“I have wanted to do this forever, but I never could afford to not get paid 4-to-6 weeks taking a class. There wasn’t a program like this,” she said.

She also has a little seasoning now, and with experience comes perspective. She likes working with current students who are working on their clinical skills at York. She likes helping the Care Assistants learn the ropes.

And Turner knows empathy is key to doing the job well. “I just try to find ways not to make (the Residents) feel so bad (about not being able to do things for themselves),” she said. “It’s why I’m here!”

Turner said the program, particularly the instruction provided, is a great way to start in healthcare.

“I just love it!” she says.

Culinary and EVS apprentices

This week, we invited team members in our culinary and environmental services departments to participate in paid training and leadership development as part of VHS’ expanding Career Advancement Program. Team members from Coliseum, James River and corporate fill out the first field of apprentices in those areas.

Apprenticeships available

A career in healthcare could be the right fit for you, too. Learn more about Virginia Health Services’ career opportunities at vahs.com/heroes.

Virginia Health Services CNA apprenticeship program adds instructor

Virginia Health Services’ apprenticeship program, which graduates Care Assistants to eventual Certified Nurse Assistants (CNAs), is undergoing a transition in instructors.

The VHS education team is adding instructor Princess Henderson, who has been with the company since 2008.

She is being guided on the ins and outs of the apprenticeship class by instructor Nora Gillespie, who after a career in nursing and education, is retiring.

Well, semi-retiring. Gillespie says she’ll be focused on education for VHS two days a week.

Ann Armstrong, who instructed the apprenticeship classes on the Middle Peninsula, also is leaving. She joins Rappahannock Community College as an instructor for their Nurse Aide program and will lead instruction for their clinical LPN and RN programs.

That means she won’t be far – the LPN and RN programs train at VHS’s Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Gloucester.

The coursework was revamped earlier this year by Gillespie and Armstrong based on the state’s criterium changes. Gillespie refers to it as a “bootcamp.”

The students have to go through pages of presentations, tests and learn 22 clinical skills, such as how to take blood pressure and wound care.

The fifth apprenticeship class is slated to graduate Oct. 26, with the sixth class to start Nov. 1. It will be the last group of apprentices for the year – another class is slated to start in January.

This class

Armstrong’s final day with VHS was Oct. 14. Her students in this fifth cohort completed their coursework and clinicals, working while awaiting graduation.

The 11 students enrolled at Walter Reed and at the EEE Center in Newport News will work as Nurse Aides at James River, Coliseum and Walter Reed while completing their certification exam reviews to become CNAs.

Ann Armstrong had three students in her class at Walter Reed

Virginia Health Services’ fifth cohort of CNA apprentices graduates Oct. 26, 2021. There were three students at Walter Reed Convalescent and Rehabilitation Center in this cohort.

“They’ve been great,” Armstrong said of her three students. “I’ve learned a lot from them, that’s for sure.”

Teaching is getting to know someone. “I wanted them to succeed, and they have,” Armstrong said.

“It’s amazing to see when someone comes here with no (clinical) knowledge, then they leave this classroom with the skills. Amazing to see someone learn; to see that lightbulb go off.”

Armstrong has been a nurse for 23 years, and an instructor since 2017. She joined VHS about a year ago from Riverside.

Her advice to students, current and future: “Study. Be open. Healthcare is ever changing. Be open to change. Do the right thing every time. You do that, you cannot make a mistake.”

Teaching the course during the COVID-19 pandemic has meant adjusting, Gillespie said. Infection prevention is covered on the first day, and that now includes emphasis on COVID and the proper way to wear the additional layers of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Students are tested regularly and encouraged to be vaccinated. They come into class with familiarity, having learned to navigate the precautions in their buildings while working the floor as Care Assistants.

The future

The sixth class will be led by Henderson.

Henderson has been with VHS since 2008, and she took the course then while pregnant to become a CNA.

“It’s a lot different!” she said.

Princess Henderson is learning how to teach the apprenticeship class

Princess Henderson is learning how to teach the apprenticeship class from instructor Nora Gillespie. Virginia Health Services’ fifth cohort of CNA apprentices graduates Oct. 26, 2021.

“The program has evolved. It’s come out of the ‘Dark Ages.’ It’s so much better and easier to understand. … I did it back when you had to pay for the class.”

How the course material is presented and how clinical skills are taught are “more effective,” Henderson said.

“She’s a role model,” Gillespie said.

Henderson became an RN, moving up through the ranks with Virginia Health Services to become Assistant Director of Nursing at Coliseum. Her career has been dedicated to long-term care with VHS. She worked at James River and the team worked with her as she went through nursing school to help schedule her shifts with her classes.

“I’m glad to be with VHS,” she said. “They really worked with me, and I plan to stay with them as they work with me to meet my goals.”

One of those goals has been to go into education. She views Gillespie as the role model.

“I strive to be as inspirational and firm as her,” Henderson said. “Firm but fair.”

“My goal truly is for her is not to need me, because then I’ve done my job,” Gillespie said.

Words of wisdom

While Henderson’s addition is a win for the education team, the departures of Gillespie and Armstrong sting.

They built out the current program with Director of Education Bryanna Rhodes earlier this year, and both have been instructors for several years.

“I can tell them a whole bunch of stuff,” Armstrong said of teaching students information off PowerPoint slides, “But I also can give them the real-life experience. … People can relate better when you make it reality.”

While Armstrong handled teaching in-services and more at Riverside, Gillespie helped her feel at ease with the material when she joined Virginia Health Services.

“Nora is a great instructor, she’s the real deal,” Armstrong said. “She’s awesome at what she does. I hate to see her go. She is one of the best instructors I have ever seen teach this class.”

But Gillespie is ready to retire – if for no other reason than to not have to wake up at 4:30 a.m.

She says that with a grin, though. Gillespie became a nurse in the 1970s. She worked in critical and acute care, including on a Nightingale air ambulance.

“That was the best,” she said. “I still have my combat boots.”

Gillespie said she is content passing the torch to Henderson.

“In my career, I know I have saved lives. In teaching, I know I have touched lives. And I am good with that,” she said.

Part of her hand-off to Henderson is helping her understand all that is involved in teaching the class – its organization, flow, schedule and timing.

It’s also helping her learn to be an instructor, looking for that spark to ignite someone to learn a skill or grasp material. It’s helping Henderson feel comfortable on being flexible to the needs of the class and being able to adjust to help students “get it.”

Gillespie has spent seven years teaching this class. “It’s a part of me,” she said. “The program is very important to me, and I see tremendous benefit in this program. VHS is committed to it.”

“Princess shares my desire to bring out the best of students,” Gillespie said. “Princess is open, friendly, she has a smile that lights up a room and a grasp of what to do.”

Henderson appreciates having Gillespie train her.

“She’s involving me in the class and has had me do tasks to get me ready. It’s been a lot of organization, learning how to keep up with their records. Then it all comes back around to developing relationships with the students and show them how to bring what they’ve learned to how it applies to their patients.”

Instructor Nora Gillespie is congratulated by the fourth class of graduates

Instructor Nora Gillespie is congratulated by the fourth class of graduates during a ceremony in September.

Retirement, for real this time

Gillespie has threatened to retire for about a year, but had difficulty stepping away from the class she has taught for seven years and helped revamp.

Her students recognize her impact. The two previous apprenticeship classes honored her at graduation ceremonies with T-shirts of her best phrases, a retirement banner and gifts — so many meaningful gifts, such as a framed selfie she let them photograph her in.

She says she doesn’t know how to be any other way, in how she teaches and how she treats others.

“You need to bring joy,” Gillespie tells students. “You see individuals when their bodies have betrayed them. You have to treat them with respect and dignity. Being kind should not be hard.”

She’s at peace with the timing of her retirement this time.

“I can walk away with a smile on my face.”

VHS apprenticeship program

The apprenticeship program is a great opportunity, Armstrong said.

“They’re getting paid to learn. That’s a huge incentive.”

There have been more than 40 enrollees in the apprenticeship program since its launch in March. The VHS earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program is part of the Healthcare Apprenticeship Extension Program, which is partially funded by a grant from the Department of Labor.

Apprenticeship students are brought on as Care Assistants and spend about 30 days working in a VHS nursing and rehabilitation center before coursework and clinicals begin. Following completion of the classes, students then return to work at a facility and undergo review sessions to prepare for the state certification exam to become a Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA).

The apprenticeship program covers the cost of the course and clinical work, and the cost of the exam. It also provides the benefit of Family Scholarship House, which can offer resources and funds to help cover academic coaching, affordable housing, transportation, child care, emergencies and more. It is available to those in the HAEP grant program at no additional cost.

The VHS apprenticeship program has plans to expand, including pathways for LPNs, and in pharmaceutical, dietary, housekeeping, and administration and leadership.

Previous cohorts graduated in AprilJune, July and September.

Learn more about the program here.

Applications to the program are accepted on a rolling basis. To apply, visit our job listing.

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