Category Archives: News & Events

Dazzling bouquets

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The brilliant dahlia next to Shari Rich is just one of the dazzling bouquets gracing dining tables at Vista Prairie at Monarch Meadows in North Mankato, MN. As the community’s activities manager, Shari recently collaborated with area gardener Sharon Chader on a joy-filled event.

“She has a huge garden full of flowers,” Shari explained. “She calls it ‘Lessons from the Garden.’ She donates all these flowers, and she doesn’t want to take anything home with her. She gives a little lesson as she’s putting bouquets together, and then she turns it over to the residents.”

Click here to see the result on Facebook. It’s Sharon’s ministry of beauty. It’s Shari’s way to help residents thrive.

“It was so much fun,” Shari says, beaming. “The joy on their faces… people who don’t usually smile… ‘just look at what I have,’” they say.

Events like this are just one of many ways Shari helps residents find their smiles and joy. She and her activities assistants conduct daily exercise for better physical health. And she’s an entertainer as well, with an unusual talent. Twenty-five years ago, she and her late husband got involved in puppet ministry in their church.

“We took our puppet team to a festival in the Twin Cities,” Shari remembers. “I saw someone do ventriloquism and I was hooked.”

These days, Shari uses her menagerie of puppets for her ventriloquist routines, “Mine are all animals, except for a pink girl, one of three main puppets,” she says. “There’s also a skunk; her name is Daisy. She’s fabulous. And then my alligator, the residents are going to meet this month.”

Shari concludes that when Monarch Meadows residents thrive, they are the dazzling bouquets for her.

“I like to find out what interests them, what their past interests were,” Shari explains. “Seeing their faces light up when they see you, that is just amazing. It’s about making a difference in their lives. I love it.”

One of our largest communities, Vista Prairie at Monarch Meadows offers 87 one-and-two-bedroom assisted living apartments and 11 care suites. We also provide two respite suites, for short-term care when home caregivers need a break. Call Maddy at (507) 933-4681 to book a tour.

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.