Two VHS team members honored as Argentum HAEP All-Stars

Virginia Health Services is proud to share two of our apprentices were selected as Healthcare Apprenticeship Expansion Program (HAEP) All-Stars by Argentum.

Shawn Hill and Valentina Zakievaare two of five selected All-Stars nationally. They were featured in Argentum’s January/February Senior Living Executive magazine and will honored during the Senior Living Executive Conference in New Orleans in May.

They were 2022 participants in Virginia Health Services’ earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program that graduates Care Assistants to Nurse Aides and covers the cost of the certification exam to be a CNA.

Valentina graduated the program in February 2022 and was placed at York Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. She passed her certification exam in the spring and over the summer earned her Registered Medication Aide (RMA) license.

Shawn, who graduated to Nurse Aide in the July 2022 cohort, was studying for the certification exam while at Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Center when a different opportunity came available. He recently moved into an activity assistant role at Coliseum, working with Residents in a different way.

They were nominated to the All-Star program by members of the VHS education center.

“These apprentices exemplified a commitment to service,” said Janet Andrews, Argentum’s HAEP Grant Program Manager, in a written statement. “The testimonies shared depicted the character of those willing to go the extra mile. Those that care for the communities they serve with excellence.”

Valentina Zakieva sits in front of the fireplace at The Hamilton.
Valentina Zakieva is a CNA/RMA at York Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and The Hamilton Assisted Living

The smallest tasks matter

Valentina Zakieva was the salutatorian of her 2022 cohort. She was working at York in the dietary department for six months prior and was encouraged to enroll by Dining Manager Nicole Freeman.

She says she appreciates the teamwork it takes across departments to provide the best possible care to the Residents at York and The Hamilton Assisted Living.

“This honor means people trust me,” she says. “My patients and coworkers like me and see how we work as a team to put our patients first.”

She and her husband moved to the U.S. from Russia. She is originally from Kazakhstan. It wasn’t until the move to the States that Valentina found herself drawn to healthcare.

“My background is international relations, but healthcare is in demand in the U.S.,” she says. “I like to help people.”

She says she had a good experience in the apprenticeship program under the instruction of Nora Gillespie, RN, and Director of Education Princess Henderson, RN. She adds the team at the education center helped her review for the certification exam – “I felt very prepared,” she says – and apply for opportunities within VHS.

Valentina says she takes pride in caring for her Residents and encourages new students in the apprenticeship to “look at the big picture.”

“My background is international relations, but healthcare is in demand in the U.S. I like to help people.”


That means, even if it’s a task that may fall to another department, if it is in the Resident’s interest, take care of it. That could mean taking out the trash or replacing a roll of toilet paper.

“And you have to listen to them. They need you and you want to make them feel good. Brush their hair, get them dressed, take pride and care in what you’re doing,” she says. “If they’re happy, we’re happy.”

She says she’s not stopping at CNA/RMA. She is waiting for documentation issues to be resolved for her to enroll in nursing school.

What path does she want to take?

“Of course, RN,” she says with a smile.

Shawn Hill portrait, seated.
Shawn Hill is the activities assistant at Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

Helping Residents creatively

Shawn Hill graduated in the July 2022 cohort and was working at Coliseum as a Nurse Aide when the activity assistant position became available. He was drawn to working with Residents in that capacity because of his interest in arts and crafts – any avenue that allows him to be creative.

“I’m a very creative person. I’ve been doing arts and crafts since kindergarten. I enjoy being around the senior population, have since I was a boy, so it’s been destined to happen. Our Residents love music. They love Bingo.

“I’m still interacting with the Residents, just on a different level.”

He still intends on going to VHS-offered reviews and taking his certification exam to be a CNA.

“I’m not going to give that up. I still have to take the test,” he says.

Shawn says he appreciates the encouragement he has gotten from everyone across departments and facilities at VHS.

“These people really know how to share their heart. I was doing it so long by myself, to get help from the place I work was very touching.”

Shawn Hill of his holiday collections for those in need

“They tell me I’m doing a good job, even if I’ve had a tough day,” he says, referring to Coliseum Administrator Dudley Haas and Assistant Administrator Haley Holland.

He carried his holiday donation tradition to VHS last year, collecting donations of toys and gift cards to distribute to those in need.

“It was so good,” he said. “These people really know how to share their heart. I was doing it so long by myself, to get help from the place I work was very touching. I’d love to expand it and involve more of our team members.”

The apprenticeship and recognition its brought has “meant a whole lot,” he says. “I live by, ‘if you work hard, you never know what will happen.’

“It’s been good all the way through (with Virginia Health Services), from when I first got hired.”

About the program

VHS’s apprenticeship program is done in partnership with Argentum and Hamilton-Ryker, with help from a grant from the Department of Labor. Applications for the next earn-as-you-learn course open Feb. 6. Our six-week courses run throughout the year and details and how to apply can be found at

Apprentices share VHS experiences over past year

In honor of National Apprenticeship Week (Nov. 14-20, 2022), Virginia Health Services is featuring two apprentices who have truly embraced what it means to develop a career within the organization.

Our earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program graduates Care Assistants to Nurse Aides. The six-week course includes classroom and clinical experience. After graduation, our education team provides review sessions leading up to the state certification exam to be a Certified Nurse Aide (CNA). The program covers the cost of the exam, and our apprentices become team members at our seven nursing and rehabilitation centers.

The apprentices featured below are just two examples of how the program is a foundation to career development within Virginia Health Services.

Community care

Shawn Hill was a member of our July 2022 class. He has been working as a Nurse Aide at Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. Soon he will start as the Assistant Activities Director at the facility. Below, he shares his experience in his own words.

Portrait of Shawn Hill
Shawn Hill graduated in July and will start as assistant activity director at Coliseum on Nov. 28.

I was a caregiver without a medical education. The apprenticeship program let me learn the skills I need to provide the proper care an individual deserves.

When I saw the earn-as-you-learn opportunity, I knew I couldn’t miss it! I stepped out on faith and applied. I was nervous, but I got the call!

My whole life changed because I am doing something I really want to do. My passion for people and helping others is on display daily. I dedicate my time outside of work to helping others as well.

My opportunities within VHS continue to expand. I’m excited to share I will start as an activities assistant at Coliseum on Nov. 28.

Serving the community inspires me. I have a nonprofit back-to-school event annually, I coordinate Christmas giveaways to families in need and much more. What I say to everyone, “If you are going to do a job, do a good one.”

Adding on certifications

Valentina Zakieva is a CNA/RMA at York Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. She graduated from the apprenticeship program in February 2022. At graduation, VHS Director of Education Princess Henderson called Zakieva her “ball of energy. None of us moved fast enough for you!” Valentina shares her journey with VHS below.

Portrait shot of Valentina Zakieva.
Valentina graduated the apprenticeship program in February and works at York.

The apprenticeship program with Virginia Health Services completely changed my life. I started in the dietary department, then enrolled in the earn-as-you-learn program to become a Nurse Aide. I passed my certification to CNA, and recently received my Registered Medical assistant (RMA) certificate.

I’m not stopping there. My goal is to become a RN.

It was an honor to be recognized at York as Team Member of the Year. I also was nominated as Apprentice of the Year in September. I work hard daily to justify the hopes placed on me. VHS has provided me the opportunity to thrive.

I am thankful for excellent teachers who imparted as much knowledge as possible on us and taught us skills until we got them precisely right.

I am here for the Residents. Seeing their smiles means the day is not lived in vain. I try to provide the compassionate care anyone would want to have for their loved ones.

I don’t regret moving to the U.S. three years. Everything is possible when you do it with love.

Join our team

We will start accepting applications for our January class on Dec. 5 at The class will begin Jan. 23, 2023. Please look for the Care Assistant job description to apply.

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.

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


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 Kentucky). 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 provinces of Canada and several National Parks, including Yellowstone and Yosemite.

Vince also is a big baseball fan, and roots for the 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”

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.