Beginning on the second Saturday of September, National Assisted Living Week is a cause for celebration for the Winona Health community. Every year, staff at Watkins Manor organize a series of events for the home’s residents to honor the occasion, providing a variety of different activities, events, presentations and family outings for the seniors who call Watkins home.
National Assisted Living Week was established in 1995 by the National Center for Assisted Living, and has been a mainstay of the Watkins Manor community ever since. According to Cheryl Krage, the director of assisted living at Winona Health, staff begins planning the week’s events in June every year, preparing a long list of upbeat programming to fill the week.
“Assisted Living Week is celebrating our seniors in maintaining choices, and having options in the setting to enjoy things all their life,” Krage said.
Every year has a designated theme, and this year, the week was based around the theme “Spark of Creativity.” Activities included a wine and canvas night, gallery showings of residential artists, a pontoon ride on the Mississippi and multiple musical performances.
“We try to take that theme and hone in on what it might be,” Krage said, adding that this year, the goal was to provide ways for residents to show off and work on their creativity.
The first event of the week was a decorated walker competition, where Watkins’ residents decked out their walkers in all manner of trinkets, decorations, and artwork.
Resident Audrey Kluzik, who had a selection of her paintings on display in the manor, had a walker designed with kittens in mind, complete with stuffed animals and a photographic pillow.
“I wanted to do something with my cats, and this is what I ended up with,” she said.
Other walkers showcased patriotism, spooky attire for the upcoming Halloween season, the beauty of nature and a bow collection.
Nola Skappel, the life enrichment coordinator at Watkins Manor, is the lead programmer at the manor. She hosts activities like crafts, music performances, dances, pet therapy and more to help maintain and encourage residents’ wellbeing. She explained that the holiday was created to honor and showcase those who live at homes like Watkins, and works to dispel myths about assisted living homes.
“The goal is to recognize residents who are now living in assisted living facilities, and letting others know that they are still active and part of society,” Skappel said. “It’s important for them to feel important at their age, and feel of value.”
Skappel explained that often, people confuse assisted living with long-term care, where patients receive 24-hour care from a rotating crew of nurses and practitioners. With assisted living, the residents often can’t live alone without help, but still enjoy the autonomy that having their own space comes with.
“They appreciate being occupied, but at the same time, want the choices of doing what is of interest to them,” Skappel said. “I’m meeting their needs by knowing what creativity means to them, and when you think of that, often the arts come into play.”
Another big goal for the week is to keep residents involved with the community and active in doing the same kinds of activities they did before they moved in. To do that, they bump up the variety and host events that would normally not be hosted at the home.
“There’s something out of the ordinary every day,” Skappel said. “There’s always things here for residents to do, but with Assisted Living Week, every day is unique.”
National Assisted Living Week culminates with a big family event, which will take place on Wednesday this week, when the family and friends of residents come together to celebrate life and the importance of assisted living.
“The big event is where families and residents come together and celebrate, having dinner and watching performances,” Krage said. “It’s a great thing to bring the family into it.”
In a way, assisted living homes become their own kind of family. Residents were quick to speak praises about living at Watkins, highlighting the activities, events, and caring staff who help them through the days.
“It’s small enough that they get to know everybody,” she said.
“I came here, and I was about 114 pounds. I was very malnourished from all the problems with my leg, and my system was out of whack,” said resident Harriet Engler. “When I came here, I kept asking for seconds, and the doctor said I should have ice cream three times a day. So they gave me ice cream three times a day. I thank God every day for everybody here.”
“I always say I’ll be here till they kick me out,” she said with a grin, as she moved to join her friends for wine.