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.

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.