Category Archives: Meet the Team

Head and Heart

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Rachelle Strasburg’s grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease at the early age of 64. And while the family was heartbroken by that news, the diagnosis helped launch Rachelle on an exploration of learning and purpose.

Rachelle converted her personal experience with her grandmother to an 18-year career in caregiving and relationship building, which has now evolved to being named Vista Prairie’s first Vice President of Sales and Marketing. In the newly created position, Rachelle will work with leaders in each of our communities to connect with potential new residents.

“With a heart for service and a passion to transform aging services, I am dedicated to collaboration, creativity, and growth in all the work I do,” Rachelle said when accepting the position.

She began her senior care journey working as a caregiver at a senior living company in Rochester, MN. It was there that she knew her life would always involve serving the older adult population. Rachelle worked as a manager in residential memory care and later transitioned into 55-plus Independent Living Property Management. As she gained knowledge about the sector, she found that she was naturally skilled in sales and marketing.

“I learned a lot about aging services and really enjoyed the sales and marketing aspect of the business,” she says. “Understanding the customer journey and creating thoughtful content, resources and campaigns around it is my favorite part of what I do.”

Among her accolades, Rachelle completed the LeadingAge MN Leadership Academy in 2019 and the organization’s Sales and Marketing in Senior Housing Certification program. She studied business administration at North Hennepin Community College and business management at the University of Minnesota.

Welcome aboard Rachelle!

Going the distance

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Eight years after Maya Kamrath joined the staff of Vista Prairie at Brentwood in Rice Lake Wisconsin, she’s still going the distance, for residents and now for her Ukrainian family 5,000 miles away. The Vista Prairie organization recently got behind Maya to send financial support from its employee fund donations to her birth mother Sveta, stepfather Sergii and brother Anton, none of whom she’s met in person. They live in Kyiv and so far, they’re safe, with the Russian invasion focused on other parts of the country.

Her Ukrainian family reacted last week to Vista Prairie’s support, “Thank you for helping us out at such a difficult time. We are also grateful to our daughter, Maya for organizing help.” And Maya added, “A special thank you for all the Vista Prairie Communities joining in together to make this possible for my family.”

Maya has literally come a long way – from a diet of oatmeal and potato soup in Kyiv to a secure adoptive home in Rice Lake. From a six-year-old’s insecurities in two orphanages, to a Certified Nursing Assistant and Brentwood’s most senior caregiver.

When her Wisconsin mom, Kathy, decided she wanted to adopt a child, Maya relates that her favorite sport influenced the country where she wanted to adopt, “She loved figure skating and two of the top ice skaters in the world at that time were from Ukraine.” Thanks to Kathy’s more recent initiative, and social media, Maya located her birth mother two years ago and established regular contact.

When she first arrived in the U.S. at six-and-a-half, Maya acknowledges how vulnerable she was as she encountered her new language and surroundings. “For instance, a hug or a comfort touch, I didn’t allow it at first. I had to understand what a hug was and what it meant to be comforted.” Finally, she came to understand the power of receiving affection through giving care herself as a baby-sitter.

Maya also went the distance through running. As a Rice Lake 5th grader, she ran more than 170 miles, equal the distance to the Minnesota boarder and back home. That started a competitive running career that went through the state high-school cross-country meet. Reporter Dave Greschner captured that part of the story for the Rice Lake Chronotype.

Maya’s heart for caregiving grew in high school. After she finished her daily workouts, she often visited Kathy’s mother, her adoptive grandmother. She lived in a nearby senior community and eventually needed dementia care. Maya’s knack for meaningful connection led to the Brentwood staff position while Maya was still in high school.

Maya reflects on her challenging life experiences, “The empathy I learned lets me understand and adapt to the differences in our residents. That’s what stands out the most. My relationships with our residents are the best part of working at Brentwood.”

The Brentwood community offers 28 one and two-bedroom apartments for seniors who value their independence but want options for personal care and supportive services. We also offer 19 memory care suites that provide a long-term option for seniors diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.

Smiles for Copperleaf

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These four people are a sample of the smiles that will soon be seen throughout Vista Prairie at Copperleaf in Willmar, MN. A $1.4 million renovation is about to start, which will mean major innovations in dining, resident communication, and all-around enjoyment.

The four people pictured in Copperleaf’s movie room (yes there are four) are the key planners, from left: Ryan Erickson from Larson Building, Amy Bursey from Monogram Design Consultants (on the floor with carpet samples), Copperleaf Executive Director Jennie Marcus, and participating virtually on the video screen, Anna Petersmeyer, Vista Prairie’s Chief Operating Officer.

Following the recent green light from Vista Prairie’s Board of Directors, Jennie is ready to set the plans in motion with many local building suppliers in the mix. “Our residents will benefit from a transformed dining experience,” Jennie says, “thanks to a new kitchen and our renovated dining room, complete with more convenient restroom facilities.”

While Copperleaf has always been known for quality care, an innovative nurse-call system will take it up a notch. “The wearable units will put residents in two-way contact with our clinical staff,” Jennie noted. “These devices will help make sure we’re always there for the support residents need.” The units also will monitor vital signs to aid physicians and other healthcare professionals.

“We also want to create a beautiful outdoor dining area with views of the marsh behind our building and a pergola for shade,” Jennie said. “We’ll be coming to residents and members of the community for financial support to go beyond our renovation budget.”

Beyond the high-tech and convenience features, Copperleaf will get an extreme paint-up/fix up with new floor and wall treatments throughout the public spaces and updates in the community’s 24 memory care suites. The community offers 55 one-and-two-bedroom assisted living apartments and seven care suites in addition to memory care. Compassion and smiles all around.

Prodigal caregiver

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Mario Abundes recently returned to Vista Prairie at Fieldcrest in Sheldon Iowa as the community’s Lead Care Manager. He’s responsible to make sure Fieldcrest is appropriately staffed, 24-7, to provide the care and services that residents need. Mario is well suited for the job since his first Fieldcrest role was a resident assistant, at age 18. Now he’s back four years later, supervising those positions.

In the interim, Mario graduated from Sheldon High School, completed nine months of basic and specialist training in the Army Reserve, and 18 months of coursework at a Cedar Rapids community college – all building his resume for Fieldcrest’s management team. He felt confident last October when he applied to rejoin that team.

“They needed someone who already knew and cared for the residents,” he recalls. “I knew everybody and got along with everyone. I don’t have my grandparents here,” Mario explains. “My grandparents live in Mexico, so I rarely get to see them. The residents here treat me like family, and that feels nice.”

He also credits the asset of his Army training. “It was a very different experience. There were people from different states, with different backgrounds and different cultures but we were all there for the same thing,” he recounts. “The Army taught us how well you can work with someone regardless of all your differences. It made you feel very acceptable.”

Mario also has learned how to adapt in other ways. While he was born in the U.S. after his folks immigrated 25 years ago for work, he was educated in both countries. Those migrations provided a crash course in climate adaptability. “When I go down there to visit, to them ‘cold’ is like in the 60s,” he says.

Mario is on track in two years to resume his schooling to become a licensed dental hygienist. Until that time comes, Fieldcrest has made him feel welcome. “When I came back to Sheldon after leaving, Fieldcrest was the only place that came to mind. I really enjoy it here. The residents are always interested in hearing about my ethnic background.”

The Fieldcrest community 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.

All in the family

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As the Alexandria Echo Press reported this week, Vista Prairie at Windmill Ponds has a novel answer for the staffing challenge that plagues so many services these days. Employ an entire family. While they don’t see that much of each other on the job, four members of the Mattson family are now serving Windmill Ponds residents.

From left to right in the photo, Katie (Mattson) Childers is a part-time culinary aide, helping in the kitchen and serving residents at mealtimes. Katie’s brother Chris Mattson is the long-time activities manager. Kathy Mattson and husband Michael, the oldest sibling, are both resident assistants, Kathy for three years and Michael for one.

Michael works 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. during the week and every other weekend. His transition involved a career shift from retail, selling and fitting customers for CPAP equipment. He’s a registered respiratory therapist who earlier worked in that field for 33 years in hospitals and clinical settings. “I wanted to get back into direct personal care,” Michael reflected. “I like the variety, and places like this needed help in the pandemic.”

Kathy and Michael have been married for 36 years. She’s a long-time caregiver who wanted to go to a smaller setting. “I like to get to know everyone that we’re working with, residents and staff,” she says. Kathy described her care for a 90-something resident with whom she has a close trusting relationship. “She’s really neat. You go in and visit and we just talk.” And all the while, Kathy is helping her take a bath or get dressed or about anything she needs to do.

Chris Mattson, the middle child of the trio, has served as the Windmill Ponds activities director for 11 years. Chris says the best part of the job is “making a resident’s day, even if the resident is 103.” While Alexandria winters do get long, he eagerly awaits summer on the area’s beautiful lakes. He’s a long-time volunteer for Let’s Go Fishing, which provides summer excursions for Windmill Ponds residents and other nonprofits.

Katie is the youngest Mattson sibling. “The residents here each have a gift; there’s something special about each of them that lets you strike up a conversation,” Katie relates. “They have so much purpose left and so many gifts to give. They enrich our lives, so much.” Katie works the dinner service and weekends, and during the summer, when she’s not teaching interior design at Alexandria Technical and Community College. She has been on the faculty there five years, after a successful career as a designer.

Why do they do it? Good seeds, planted by the siblings’ parents are one reason. Their mother Carmen encouraged the kids to volunteer with senior care facilities when they were growing up. She died in 2016 after a four-year stay at Windmill Ponds. Their father George passed away six years earlier, having run an interior design business since 1959 and also teaching at Alexandria College.  

Windmill Ponds offers assisted living in 65 one- and two-bedroom apartments, designed for seniors who enjoy an active social environment and expect high quality care.