We are celebrating National Activity Professionals Week (Jan. 23-27) 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 team-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:
Sarah Allen, Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Center
Years with Virginia Health Services: 2 years (1 year in activities).
What drew you to a career in recreation services in senior living? I was ready for a change. (Sarah was a concierge at Coliseum before moving to activities.)
How do you support the community’s team and Residents? At Coliseum, we are always coming up with new fun things to do. Our office door is always open for anyone who wants to come visit us. I love the relationships we get to build with staff and Residents.
What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? The paperwork and meetings! Everyone thinks we just get to play games, but it’s not.
Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? Activity Connection, Facebook and Pinterest.
What types of activities do your Residents enjoy most? Bingo! Plus, any food or music programs and church.
Personal details: I tell others that I get to come to work to have fun. Seeing my Residents smile and say how much they had at a program just makes me very happy.
Shawn Hanberry, James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center
Years with Virginia Health Services: Almost 7 years. (I have 26 years of activities experience.)
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.
Amber Watson, Lancashire Nursing and Rehabilitation Center
Years with Virginia Health Services: 3.5 months.
What drew you to a career in recreation services in senior living? I have always had a big heart for the elderly. I became a CNA and worked private cases and in nursing homes for six years until the pandemic. At that time, I decided to stay home with my kids. When my kids returned to school, I returned to work, searching for activity director openings. I thought, “how cool and fun it would be to do fun things with elders and keep them active?”
How do you support the community’s team and Residents? I love supporting my Team Members! Helping them in any way shape or form, I always have a lending hand for my work family.
Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? There’s a lot of paperwork! We have a lot of fun in activities, but there is a lot of daily paperwork too.
What types of activities do your Residents enjoy most? My Residents are very hands on! Any activity that involves everyone having a good time enjoying themselves, best believe they will be there. They really love arts and crafts, and social get togethers.
Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? I have five kids and they love to help with activity ideas for the Residents. I also get ideas from Pinterest and from the Residents themselves.
Personal details: I am 30 years old. I was born in New Jersey, but have lived in Virginia since I was 7. My husband and I have been together 13 years and we have five kids (three girls and two boys, ages 2, 5, 7, 10 and 13). We recently moved to Topping in August 2022.
Charlene Craig, Northampton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center
I have been with Virginia Health Services for 33 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.
Jamel DeCosta, The Newport Nursing and Rehabilitation Center
Years with Virginia Health Services: 2 years.
What drew you to a career in recreation services in senior living? I’ve always enjoyed the elderly. I guess it’s due to being raised by my grandmother.
How do you support the community’s team and Residents? Pitching in where ever needed.
What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? The relationships between the staff and Residents.
What types of activities do your Residents enjoy most? Bingo, painting and cornhole.
Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? Friends and family, especially my 10-year-old grandson.
Personal details: I am a mother of two and grandmother of four. I enjoy entertaining, crafting, decorating and shopping.
Julie Boothe, Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center
This is my 29th year at Walter Reed in the recreational therapy field. It is more like family than a job. I have always stated the God gave me the gift of caring, which drew me to taking care of my elders and those who would benefit. My job is adapting activities to suit each individual’s needs to make their life the best it can be.
The community plays a very important role in helping achieve social wellbeing. We are starting to spring out of COVID and back into routine. Community members and organizations come in and provide music, church services, games, gardening, crafts, entertainment and more for our Residents. We also have individual volunteers who help with in-house activities, socials, transportation and more. We are blessed to have all the community and volunteer support we do.
You will never know how the littlest of things can make a Resident feel so very important. As we all know, it takes a lot to provide total care of an individual and all the team members here do what they can to help meet our Residents’ needs daily. I deeply care for all of our Residents, team members, and volunteers for all they do.
As much as I cherish my Walter Reed life, I also cherish my family, from my mother, husband, sons and their families, my sisters and their families, to my two grandchildren. We have passed down our caring hearts to our grandchildren, who are very caring to others. We are all outdoors people and spend most of our time there. We like to hike, work outdoors and take care of our animals. We have turkeys, chickens, goats, dogs and cats.
I consider myself blessed by God as he uses me to help others. Stay active and live life to the fullest.
Mary Garrity, York Nursing and Rehabilitation Center
Years with Virginia Health Services: 6 (in March).
What drew you to a career in recreation services in long-term care? The elderly 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 wherever 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.
Quianna Terrell, The Arbors Independent Living
Years with Virginia Health Services: Almost two months.
What drew you to a career in recreation services in senior living? I was always interested in being around seniors. It wasn’t until two years ago while I was in California, I was filling in for our activity director and I just thought her job was so fun and exciting. Being able to plan and execute daily activities for Residents was definitely something I knew I would be great at doing.
How do you support the community’s team and Residents? By always being attentive to my team and Residents, and always being a team player.
Where do you find ideas/inspirations for activities? First and foremost, from my Residents. If you just sit and talk with them for a little, you will discover a lot from them. I also get inspirations from Facebook groups and Pinterest.
What type of activities do your Residents enjoy the most? My Residents really enjoy crafting, painting, trivia and bingo!
Personal details: Being an activity director and being able to implement programs on the calendar is more than just that. I am up close and personal with the Residents. They confide in me and they count on me to do a great job in making their lives more enjoyable and fun. The bonds that I have created while being in this position is more than I could ask for. The smiles and joy on my Residents’ faces after a program, the “thank you” and the “great job Quianna” makes everything I do worth it.
Kirstie Saunders, The Hamilton Assisted Living
Years with Virginia Health Services: 1 year in March.
What drew you to a career in recreation services in senior living? As a teen I attended church camp in Lynchburg. We had to choose somewhere to volunteer in the community and I chose the nursing home and loved it! I also have family in healthcare who helped guide me along the way and support me in my career.
How do you support the community’s team and Residents? I like to help make it feel like home. I listen to Resident and team ideas and brainstorm to make things come to life. The motto “Love where you live and love where you work” is what I strive for, both for the Residents and our team.
What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? That I drive the bus!
Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? First and foremost, the Residents. They enjoy trying new things so I enjoy brainstorming with other professionals, finding ideas from Pinterest and Instagram, and implementing them into our community.
What types of activities do your Residents enjoy most? They love to help care for Mr. Hamilton, our community rabbit. We named the area he lives in The Gathering Place and you can always find folks there forming bonds by chatting or singing.
Personal details: I have been married for 18 years and have a son and two Australian Shepard dogs. I enjoy boating, beaching and fishing with my family.
Devyn Hotop, The Huntington Assisted Living
Years with VHS: I was a CNA for about a year and have been the Huntington Activities Director for two months.
What drew you to a career in recreation services in senior living? During my time as a CNA one of my favorite things to do was to watch the Residents engage in the various activities that were provided. I loved seeing the Residents happy and I knew this position would be the perfect way to express my creativity while helping others!
How do you support the community’s team and residents? I always try to pitch in and help out both the Residents and staff whenever I can! I also make sure to be someone that our Residents can go and talk to.
What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? I think it would surprise others how much this position helps you get to know the Residents in a different way. The activities bring out so much personality in them, even the shy ones!
Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? Asking the Residents what they like and dislike helps me find a lot of inspiration. I also love using Pinterest and other social media to get different and interesting ideas for activities that I would have never thought of on my own.
What types of activities do your Residents enjoy most? Bingo is definitely the biggest hit, but they also really enjoy socials and music entertainment as well.
Personal details: In my free time I love to thrift, paint, and go outside with my Aussie and boyfriend!
Join the team!
We are looking for Activity Professionals to join our team. Visit vahs.com/careers to view the job description and apply.