Author Archives: Jeff Smith

Mountain climber

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Eunice and Judy Wolner climb virtual mountains together at Vista Prairie at Goldfinch Estates in Fairmont, MN. Judy explores the reality of the residents she cares for, like Eunice. As the Lead Care Coordinator for the community’s memory care unit, she has engaged seniors diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease or other forms of dementia, and their family members, for more than 18 years.

Goldfinch’s longest serving staff person, Judy applies her experience in the field to supervise a dedicated staff. “The reason I’m here is because I need to be here,” she says about her calling as a Goldfinch leader. “It’s never been about the money. I feel like somebody has to be there. Our mission here gives families peace.”

While memory care is Judy’s latest adventure, it’s not her first. When she was 21, she and a group of friends climbed Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. The peak is literally next door to Moshi, the village where she grew up with four brothers and three sisters in Tanzania.

She recalls that the climb (Judy is third from left in the photo) took three days to go up and three to come down, for an average of 6-8 hours each day. “This was considered the easiest route but after the first day, I knew why our ancestors called it Kilemanyaaro,” her tribal language’s expression for “cannot be conquered.”

Trans-Atlantic travel was Judy’s next exploration, in her early 20s, as she visited a friend in New York. This love for adventure landed her in Minnesota where she met her husband and got married in 2005. They settled in Fairmont, his hometown, where they are raising their son. Judy quickly secured a position as a Goldfinch Estates resident assistant.

Most folks in Fairmont don’t look like Judy. She sees her ethnicity and race differently. Growing up in a high tourism part of Tanzania with people of all colors, faiths and cultures was a blessing. “There’s a lot of foreigners that come and climb the mountain or go on Safaris,” she says. “Moving to the U.S. was the first time I was referred as ‘Black’ which is a way to distinguish people in the U.S. However, that’s impossible where I was born, with so many shades of the same color. We are simply Tanzanians. It’s more about what part of the country you come from, or what tribe you’re from.”

Living in Fairmont for nearly 20 years, she has helped to educate friends and coworkers about her race, culture, and her career. She recalls one conversation where she responded to a child’s curiosity this way – “We’re just like flowers. Wouldn’t it be terrible if we only had the white roses or the red roses and not all these other colors?” This child’s mother later reflected that she’d frequently wondered how to explain race to her kids.

“If your heart is pure and you tell the truth, there’s no problem,” says Judy, expressing her philosophy. “It all depends on adults and the seeds that get planted early in life.”

And that’s the same philosophy Judy teaches in climbing memory mountains with residents. “Part of our role is to educate family members to accept their loved-ones for who they are now, not who they were before they moved here.”

In addition to its 41 memory care suites, Goldfinch Estates offers 92 one and two-bedroom assisted living apartments for seniors who want access to supportive services while maintaining their independence.

New Year – new home

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When they moved into Vista Prairie at Garnette Gardens in Redwood Falls, MN on January 3, Roman and Shirley earned the community’s “New Year distinction.” Sort of like being the first baby born at a hospital, they’re the first new residents of 2023 to make Garnette Gardens their home. Welcome Roman and Shirley to your two-bedroom apartment!

At the ages of 91 and 85, it was a big decision to leave their Redwood Falls home of 13 years. “It didn’t bother us much,” recalls Roman. “The kids wanted us to move, and we did.” The couple heads a five-generation family, including two daughters and three sons, 15 grandchildren, 16 great grandchildren and a new great-great grandson.

As home transitions go, it didn’t rank nearly as high as the decision Roman and Shirley made to move into Redwood Falls. That 2009 move came after 42 years of cultivating and caring for a 240-acre row-crop farm in Redwood County, west of town. One of their sons is farming that land now, in addition to several hundred acres of his own.

And two other factors made the move make even more sense. The couple’s eldest daughter used to be on Garnette Gardens’ staff. She started the ball rolling. And after the move, they discovered that Linda, a long-time Redwood Falls neighbor, lives just down the hall.

Three meals a day and the laundry service highlight the community’s benefits so far. Then there’s the exercise. “We’re supposed to walk a lot,” Roman says. “We can go up and down the hall and get a lot more exercise than we could at home.”

Garnette Gardens offers 62 one and two-bedroom apartments for seniors who value their independence but need options for personal care and supportive services. We also offer 16 memory care suites. Nine care suites round out the options, offering a higher level of assisted living care and supervision.

Home for Christmas

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This was the first Christmas at Vista Prairie at Brentwood for Rhianon Peterson, the community’s Director of Health Services, who joined the staff in late October. While she brings 20-years of nursing experience to the job, her holiday joy at Brentwood felt like something new.

“We have a Christmas gala here,” she describes. “I asked my husband and my daughter to come and help. And when we got home that night, my husband said what he loved best about the experience was seeing me smile. There’s no other job I’ve ever had that I can come to work and just smile, because I love these people.”

The family had recently moved to Rice Lake, WI from the Spooner area to be closer to where they grew up. Rhianon’s education roots also are in Rice Lake, obtaining her Registered Nurse certification at the local community college. That was in 2002.

After a variety of hospital and other nursing experiences, coming back to care for older adults had long been her goal. When the opportunity at Brentwood surfaced, she jumped at the chance.

“I’ve always loved Brentwood,” she says. “I used to come here as a hospice nurse. It was a place that I always said, if I ever had to put a loved-one somewhere, this is where it would be.”

While she’s happy she’s found her professional home at Brentwood, Rhianon is grateful for her years of experience in hospice and home care. “Being out in the field in those positions gave me confidence in my role here, that I can do this,” she said. Brentwood’s residents already have seen her skills in leading the nursing staff and carrying out health assessments.

The Brentwood community offers options for residents on all sides of the care spectrum, with 28 one and two-bedroom apartments for seniors who want options for personal care and supportive services along with their freedom of movement. We also offer 19 memory care suites that provide a long-term option for seniors diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.

Bon appétit

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Jennie Marcus wants to take your order at Vista Prairie at Copperleaf in Willmar, MN. Would you prefer the Daily Chef’s Selection or are you in the mood for a hot panini sandwich today? If so, you should try the Chicken Caprese with mozzarella cheese, tomato and a balsamic glaze, served on artisan bread. Copperleaf’s North Winds Fine Dining menu will soon feature these choices and many more, in addition to yummy breakfasts, served each morning until 10 a.m.

It’s all about choice and flexibility. “We all look forward to our next meal,” says Jennie, Copperleaf’s Executive Director. “For residents to have choice on when and what they want to eat, and who they want to eat with, is going to make a huge difference in our services. They can also invite their families to come and get something from the restaurant.”

The dining experience will change for Copperleaf’s 24 memory care suites as well. The former dining room in that section has been converted to new activity space. The new dining area will have facilities to enable residents to eat when they want to. “It will allow the staff to do more one-on-one care with them,” Jennie explains.

Jennie says the residents have enjoyed watching the progress so far with the $1.5 million renovation in the kitchen, and throughout Copperleaf’s public spaces. “One of our huge landmarks was moving the grand piano upstairs,” she recounts. “That was an emotional day. Now that it’s on the mezzanine level it sounds so beautiful. I think it was always meant to be up there; the acoustics are so nice.”

When spring comes, Copperleaf still plans to create an outdoor dining area with views of the marsh behind the building and a pergola for shade. “We’ll be coming to residents and members of the community for financial support to go beyond our renovation budget,” Jennie said. The community offers 55 one-and-two-bedroom assisted living apartments and seven care suites in addition to memory care. Compassion, smiles and fine dining all around.

Advent

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Brandon and Franklin with Finnish Painting

Brandon and Franklin with Finnish Painting are touching up a hallway before new carpeting is installed for Vista Prairie at Fieldcrest in Sheldon, IA. As Christmas draws near, anticipation also is building for Fieldcrest residents as a renovation project in excess of $1.5 million reaches the halfway point.

“They get to watch the whole thing happen right before their eyes,” says Senior Executive Director Cal Diekmann. “They’re very excited about the end product but for now, they’re so excited just watching it.”

Now that it’s recarpeted, new furniture soon will be installed in the front living room, along with new curtains and a dramatic new fireplace, still to come.

Anticipating the end product is what has Cal most excited, “Our residents will have a brand-new dining experience,” he says. Meal offerings will feature more menu choices thanks to a completely refitted kitchen. Mealtimes will be staggered to fit better with residents’ plans, rather than having to observe a set meal schedule.

Residents will watch food being prepared from an in-dining room serving area. “It will be more of a home-cooked feeling, and I’m very excited about that,” Cal says.

Even an investment of more than $1.5 million has its limits. Replacement chairs for the activities room did not make the final cut, so Fieldcrest has launched a fundraiser for 50 chairs. Some residents have already stepped up to buy a chair, and so have some of Fieldcrest’s best vendors. If you would like to sponsor a chair, please designate your Fieldcrest gift online

While Fieldcrest’s staff also anticipate their new surroundings, renovations can be tough on caregivers too. “Absolutely,” Cal says. “They have to put up with last minute decisions. They do it with a smile, and they ask me if I need help. Just amazing.”

Fieldcrest offers 69 one- and two-bedroom assisted living apartments for seniors who need access to personal care and supportive services. We also offer 12 memory care suites that provide a long-term option for seniors diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.