Tag Archives: memory care

A legacy that keeps giving

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Juanita Schmeeckle’s big heart and keen intellect live on in annual grants provided for Martin County nonprofits. Vista Prairie at Goldfinch Estates is connected in more than one way to Juanita’s legacy. Juanita made Goldfinch Estates her home in 2009. Mary Larson remembers accompanying Goldfinch’s nurse to Juanita’s home at that time, to assess her care needs.

“She lived a very modest, low key and private life,” says Mary, who recently retired as the Goldfinch Estates Community Sales and Marketing Manager. “She was an amazingly intelligent lady. She was very well traveled and had a style of her own!”

Before she moved-in to Goldfinch Estates, Juanita and a group of trustees established the Schmeeckle Foundation. The organization ensured that Juanita’s estate would be used to enrich lives through “innovation and creative collaboration,” as the website says. The Foundation’s Martin County focus includes early childhood care and education, people who are disabled and elderly, and the arts.

A second connection came in 2020 as Goldfinch Estates was honored to receive one of the Foundation’s grants. “The grant assisted us with career development, convenience services and support programs,” said Executive Director Kacey Kasel. “As a result, staff retention has increased and our need to bring in staff from outside agencies was drastically reduced, allowing our residents to be cared for by local staff who know their needs best.”

Goldfinch Estates is proud to be part of Juanita Schmeeckle’s legacy and her foresight. “Thank you, Kacey, and the rest of your staff for the care you give to the residents of Goldfinch,” said Shirley Maschoff, one of the Foundation’s trustees. “Juanita was very well cared for during the time she spent in your memory care unit, and we appreciate it.”

Specifically, the foundation grant funded a generous tuition assistance program that provided support for seven Resident Assistants to become Certified Nursing Assistants through the Minnesota Department of Health. Front-line staff also got recognition through programs like Employee of the Month. Finally, meals were made available to front-line staff by Goldfinch’s culinary staff to assist with the challenges of long duty shifts.

The community offers 92 one and two-bedroom apartments for seniors who want access to supportive services while maintaining their independence. We also offer 41 memory care suites that provide a long-term option for seniors diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.

On the air

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Julie Wohlman, a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) for Vista Prairie at Garnette Gardens in Redwood Falls, MN, will celebrate her 60th birthday in style this month. She’s on the air, talking about how much she loves her job in her first six months on Garnette’s staff. Julie says it all came about from a question.

“A resident asked me how I liked working here,” Julie recalls. “I said ‘I love it here.’ She says, ‘Do they treat you well?’ and I said, ‘Oh yes, they treat us very well here.’” One thing led to another and before she knew it, she was recording this spot for a KLGR radio ad.

A mother of four and stepmother for three more, Julie said she’d always been interested in health care. She served at an area nursing home but found the job too physically taxing. After working in retail for a couple years, her husband suggested she apply for an opening at Garnette Gardens, noting the differences between a nursing home and the responsibilities in assisted living and memory care.  It was the right decision.

“The residents are just awesome,” Julie notes. “I love to listen to their stories. They talk about what it was like ‘back in the day,’ and we have a lot in common.”

While she grew up in the Twin Cities, Julie lives on a farm now and says she enjoys talking about farming with the residents. She says service for residents is what keeps her at Garnette Gardens. And the residents are clearly happy she’s part of the community. “We have one resident who just loves to tease me,” she says, “and you just have to give it back.”

The community offers 62 one and two-bedroom apartments for seniors who also 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.

Listening to lead

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As a leader and caregiver for Vista Prairie at Copperleaf in Willmar, MN, Amanda Toutges relies on her listening skills. She’s pictured here learning how memory care resident Barb is getting along. She also listens to caregivers who report to her, as she pursues a progressive staffing strategy.

Amanda supervises about 60 Copperleaf resident assistants (RAs), as they provide individual care for residents. “I sit down and listen to them,” she says. “I’ll go around and ask everybody on the floor because I think they should have just as much say in things they’re gonna do, as me just changing it. I give that respect back to them and make sure they know I’m including them in my decision.”

Her leadership through listening is a key reason that Copperleaf is fully staffed. With lots of RA input, Amanda’s staffing innovations have made a significant difference in a geographic area where senior care communities have had challenges maintaining their staffing levels.

Amanda’s education includes her Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) certification in 2011 at Ridgewater College in Willmar. There, she also completed all but the testing phase to be a Registered Nurse. For five years before the pandemic hit, she was an LPN for the local CentraCare Clinic. “Then I had to go home and be a Kindergarten teacher for our five-year-old son.”

When her son’s school reopened, she interviewed with nine different health care organizations before she chose Copperleaf. “There’s something about the staff here – incredible,” she says. “Coming to work here every day, I feel like yesterday was my first day… like what can I do better? What can I learn? It’s a fun place to work. I love our old people.”

In addition to Copperleaf’s 55 assisted living apartments, Amanda also is responsible for ensuring that the community’s 24 memory care suites are staffed around the clock. The community also offers seven care-suites. While she’d like to be in all those places at once, she realizes that’s not possible.

Copperleaf’s Executive Director, Jennie Marcus comments that, along with the life complexities of each staff member, Amanda’s leadership supports an inclusive Copperleaf culture, “Her values and courage to create an inclusive environment are the reasons that our staff feels accepted, supported, and are thriving as exceptional caregivers.”

Copperleaf is in the process of a $1.4 million renovation throughout its public spaces, in the kitchen, and updates in the community’s memory care suites.

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.