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GrandBigs Program Brings Different Generations Together

May 9, 2018

Two or three times per month, VMRC Residents volunteer to spend time with local elementary school students whom they are mentoring. Their efforts are part of a unique program known as “GrandBigs” and involve Big Brothers Big Sisters of Harrisonburg Rockingham County, Harrisonburg Public Schools and VMRC.

“The traditional Big Brothers Big Sisters program matches an adult with a child, and they do local off-campus-type interactions. Our idea was to involve VMRC residents to bring a similar program into the schools,” said Emily Young, Volunteer Services Manager at VMRC. “To our knowledge, we created the first GrandBigs program in the Shenandoah Valley.”

The local initiative began three school years ago when four kindergarteners at Waterman Elementary School were paired with volunteer mentors from VMRC. Since then, two or three times per month, the pairs spend a lunch period together at the school. The mentors fill a role similar to a visiting grandparent. Together, each pair focuses on reading, plays games, shares stories and generally gets to know each other. GrandBigs has grown steadily and currently has eight pairs of students and volunteers.

Teachers play an important role in the GrandBigs program. They make space for the relationships to bloom, letting the volunteers use their classroom materials. In return, they see firsthand how their students’ confidence grows and their reading skills improve.

“Everyone has fun and gets something out of these intergenerational relationships,” said Emily. “More and more in our culture, older adults live separately from the rest of their families, so children aren’t getting as much exposure to older generations. Children miss out on that special kind of interaction and the wisdom shared by those who have lived a full life with lots of different experiences. Likewise, older adults miss out on being around children with their inherently infectious energy, enthusiasm and curiosity.”

Having someone in a child’s life who is not their parent or teacher and with whom they can have fun and share experiences is valuable, especially for those who are siblings because it means they get their own special relationship in which they are the center of attention.

“Kids ask us all the time to have a GrandBig. Many who don’t have one would like to have one,” said Emily. “We have a need for more VMRC resident volunteers.”

Recruiting for the 2018-2019 school year will begin in May. To volunteer in the GrandBigs program, contact VMRC Volunteer Services at (540) 564-3524; anyone in VMRC’s Residential Living may apply.

Applicants will be asked to fill out initial paperwork and interview with Big Brothers Big Sisters staff. Staff will then take the time to get to know all the candidate volunteers and students before making intentional pairings matching compatible personalities and considering preferences for pairings with a girl or boy. All selected volunteers will meet for orientation in the summer prior to the school year. A commitment of one school year is required; however, volunteers may continue in the program beyond that.

Not a resident of VMRC but want to help? Big Brothers Big Sisters of Harrisonburg Rockingham County is always looking for volunteer mentors for its many other programs.

"Meet Betsy" - A Q&A with our new Vice President of Supportive Living

April 30, 2018

Meet our new Vice President of Supportive Living, Betsy Thorpe! While Betsy is new to this role, she’s not new to VMRC or to the industry. Read on to learn more about Betsy and her role at VMRC.

Tell us about your background.

You could say working in the industry is in my blood. While it’s never been a family business, it has been the business of my family.  We moved to Harrisonburg from Petersburg, West Virginia, when I was four years old.  My father took a job with Sunnyside Retirement Community and a few years later, was named President/CEO.  I spent a lot of time visiting the campus and residents, attending events and when old enough, I began working there. Through high school and a few years of college, I worked as a receptionist and resident services assistant.  I have always appreciated growing up in that community and the fulfillment my father and family gained from being a part of it and working with the aging population. I’m the youngest of three and have one brother and one sister.  At one point, everyone in my immediate family, except for my mother, worked in a different CCRC in the state of Virginia

VMRC is the third CCRC I have worked for. While living in Richmond, I worked at Westminster Canterbury - Richmond opening and running what was at that time, their newest dining facility, The Canterbury Room.  I then returned to Sunnyside for 10 years of my professional career. The first five were spent on the Harrisonburg campus as the Food and Beverage Manager and the last five, at Summit Square Retirement Community, a Sunnyside Communities property, in Waynesboro. While in that role, I obtained my Nursing Home Administrators License. I started working at VMRC in September of 2016.

What does a typical day look like in your new role?

I’m quickly learning that “typical” may not exist in this position.  While I’m learning the role, I am finding each day to bring new relationships, challenges, understanding and learning.  I get to spend time with a diverse team working through the highs and lows that everyday operations present as we focus on staffing, quality measures, and person-centered care while providing good customer service.

What drew you to VMRC originally and how has the community evolved since then?

I’ve always known VMRC to be very reputable and a leader among CCRC’s.  The opportunity to work in Woodland Park, a setting that is ground level and innovative to long-term care, along with knowledge of this community’s strong roots and solid leadership, drew me to VMRC.  While a majority of my time here has been spent in Woodland Park, I’ve been so excited to see the level of energy and effort that is put into the entire Community.  The vision of being a destination hub for those who want to age well in vibrant, authentic community has been well planned and shared and in the short time I have been here, I’m seeing it come to life.      

What is your proudest moment at VMRC thus far?

The completion of the moves to Woodland Park has been my proudest moment thus far.  So many worked so hard and not just staff, but families, residents and volunteers.  The moves truly exemplified community and I felt very proud to take part in that.

What most excites you for the future of VMRC?

VMRC’s future is so bright.  I see this community investing in their facilities as well as their people.  It’s another reason I was/am very excited to work here.  I’m excited to be part of building on the great reputation VMRC already has.  I’m excited to see the vision of destination hub come alive and to play a part in it doing so.  

If you weren’t working in this field, what would your dream career be?

Well, If I wasn’t working with seniors I think I would be working with children.  I think I would like teaching and I’d especially love to coach a sports team. 

Betsy lives in Harrisonburg with her husband Jay, two daughters, Riley (13), Maggie (11) and two dogs, Chesney and Scout. Her most favorite past time is the many hours spent at the soccer field or basketball court watching her girls do what they love. Betsy says, “They are little athletes at heart and I have really come into my own in my role as soccer mom.”


A Spiritual Approach to Nourishing Your Soul

March 14, 2018

As older adults face the challenges that come along with aging, it’s easy to focus on caring for their physical health, but at VMRC, staff also recognize the importance of their spiritual health. In fact, physical and spiritual health are just two of six key pillars of wellness; the others are emotional health, mental health, social wellbeing and educational opportunity.

“Our spiritual core is the core of who we are as human beings,” said Eric Martin, Supportive Living Chaplain. “It’s like the hub of a wheel. If your wheel doesn’t have a hub, you don’t have a wheel. Our spiritual practice is important because it nurtures who we are.”

“At VMRC, we support people’s spiritual life. Yes, we’re a Christian-based community, but we welcome people of all faiths,” said Steve Landis, Residential Living Chaplain. More than 20 denominations are represented among residents.

Together, Eric and Steve promote a variety of regular spiritual practices with the common goal of encouraging VMRC residents to develop and deepen their relationship with God.

They take turns hosting weekly Sunday services including a formal morning worship service and a less formal afternoon or evening Vespers service.

“Most Sunday mornings, we bring in guest preachers who are often retired pastors from the local community,” said Steve. “VMRC is a Mennonite-based community so we often lead according to that tradition, but we also bring in pastors from other traditions such as Methodist, United Church of Christ, Church of the Brethren, Presbyterian and Catholic. The service is live streamed across campus so that residents who cannot physically make it to the service can still participate.”

The weekly Vespers program is more varied. More often than not, musical groups like the Shenandoah Valley Men’s Choir, a children’s choir or a youth group perform. At other times, guest speakers will come talk about their service projects.

Special worship services for residents and staff are held throughout the year.

“We’re always looking for ways to incorporate spiritual life and growth into the various aspects of campus life,” said Steven. “For example, we have a prayer circle for residents and staff every Tuesday at 8:00 am for a short, 15-minute period of prayer. Even our CEO starts her day with it.”

Bible studies happen regularly on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings at various campus locations.

As part of a commitment to support residents through difficult times of loss and transition, Eric and Steve host monthly spiritual support groups for residents who have lost a spouse and for residents who must now live separately from their spouse due needing different levels of care.

When the time comes to go through an end of life transition, both chaplains work with residents and their families. Then after a resident passes away, they will plan a memorial service on campus if the family would like one.

While spirituality often has a religious component, even people who are not religious can take care of their spiritual health. “Simply take time to recognize humanity and reflect on your values. Figure out what gives you meaning and do that,” said Eric.

For more information on spiritual wellness at VMRC, visit


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