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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 http://www.vmrc.org/spiritual-growth.

Seven Tips To Get Your Health Back On Track

February 17, 2018

Sometimes life happens, and we stop taking care of ourselves. Then, getting back on track may seem like an insurmountable effort, but there are lots of little things that you can do to resume your return to healthier ways. Small incremental changes eventually do add up to significant change.

Tip #1: Start Moving

“The biggest thing is to start moving. Keep it simple by just moving more today than you did yesterday,” said Melinda Noland, director of the VMRC Wellness Center & Life Enrichment. “A lot more movement may seem daunting or intimidating, so take the approach of building up your movement gradually by a little bit at a time.”

Tip #2: Go for Walks

Once you get moving, keep moving. Build up to going for strolls in places like on VMRC’s Dogwood Trail, an indoor walking path that is safe, open to the public and completely protected from the elements. The Dogwood Trail has no stairs and is relatively flat, making it wheelchair and stroller friendly. Along the way, you can stop and check out art exhibits or enjoy a snack at the Main Street Cafe.

Tip #3: Eat Smarter

Make simple changes such as using milk instead of creamer in your coffee. Or pick healthier snacks that are more filling in small quantities because they have a mix of carbs, fiber and protein that makes you feel full sooner. A great example is half of a banana or apple with a tablespoon of peanut butter on top.

Tip #4: Eat Less

Most of us know what’s good and bad to eat and why, but we often overlook a very important factor in our nutrition: how much we are actually eating. Quantity is important. You can eat too much of a good thing, so be mindful about how much you consume in each of your meals and snacks.

Tip #5: Pre-Pack Your Bag

It’s human nature to avoid things that are difficult or require extra effort, so it’s a good idea to remove any obstacles that could derail your best intentions to go workout. “Always keep a small bag packed with fresh workout clothes and a towel,” said Melinda. “Then you’ll be ready to go whenever the opportunity arises; you can exercise on a whim without having to plan ahead.”

Tip #6: Recruit a Partner

Yes, you can make a date with yourself to go exercise, but you’re far more likely to keep it if you have company to hold you accountable. Plus, you’ll typically have more fun with others. “Sign up for a group class, or recruit a friend or significant other to go with you to the gym or pool. Then put it on your calendar because if you don’t, you might find a reason not to go,” said Melinda.

Tip #7: Mix It Up

Bored of the same old gym routine or tired of swimming lap after lap? Change it up. “If you are a land exerciser, try the water and vice versa. It’s always a good idea to cross train,” said Melinda.

You might also try playing pickleball or participating in a dance class. Both activities improve physical, mental and social wellness as well as coordination.

Adults 50 and over are invited to join VMRC’s Wellness Center. During the month of the February, all new members will get 65% off their enrollment fee. Contact the Wellness Center at (540) 547-3850 for more details.

Support Helps VMRC Fulfill Its Mission

January 17, 2018

VMRC strives to create a community of hope, meaning and growth for people to age well and live fully, but it can’t do it without the ongoing support of the greater community. How can you best support VMRC in 2018? Donations of money and volunteer time are essential.

Donate money

“Every year, people have to decide when they give and how they give,” said Les Helmuth, executive director of the VMRC Foundation. “People give because they believe in an organization, the people who run it, what the organization does and where it’s going. Giving to VMRC is a way to give back to people who really need help.”

VMRC has a strong history of caring for people when they have outlived their resources and run out of money. That’s accomplished through the Compassion Care Endowment and the Good Samaritan Fund. Approximately 35 residents per year benefit from these combined funding sources totalling $400,000 annually. VMRC’s entire commitment to compassion funding is between $1.3 million and $1.5 million per year; the difference is covered through VMRC’s operations.

“The Good Samaritan Fund benefits people who currently live in Woodland Park and Crestwood,” said Les. “The Compassion Endowment also funds the same group of people, but because it’s an endowment, only a portion of the investment’s earnings is used to take care of people today.”

VMRC’s total endowment is $9.1 million with a lion’s share of it - $6 million - in the Compassion Care Endowment. Ultimately a $30 to 40 million endowment will be needed to meet VMRC’s continuing care goals.

The VMRC Foundation gratefully accepts gifts of cash, highly appreciated stocks and direct gifts from IRA funds (charitable rollovers). A common way of giving for those over age 70 ½  is to direct minimum IRA distributions to VMRC with the advantage to donors being that they do not have to claim the income donated on their taxes, thus reducing their annual tax bill. Other donors may prefer to give to VMRC through bequests planned for after they’ve passed away.

GIve to VMRC’s Good Samaritan Fund.

Donate Time

VMRC has a robust and varied volunteer program with more than 600 volunteers contributing more than 46,000 hours of service in 2017.

“Study after study documents that the more you are involved and socially connected, the better your mental health, physical health and longevity will be,” said Emily Young, Volunteer Coordinator at VMRC. “There are so many things that you can do here. Many volunteers find a good match for their skills and interests.”

Community members can volunteer as part of a variety of programs including teaching art, music or wellness classes to residents and helping out at VMRC’s Willow Run Farm. Individuals with audio visual expertise are needed to help produce Sunday morning chapel services which are broadcast to residents throughout campus.

“We’re also looking for volunteers with IT experience to tutor residents with tech needs,” said Emily. “We have an increasing number of residents who want to engage with their grandchildren. They’re looking for tutoring help so that they can learn to use their smartphones and computers to communicate via text, Facebook and other platforms.”

A new role for volunteers is that of a Woodland Park House Friend. “It’s like the neighbor you had growing up who could just walk into your house, jump into whatever was going on and help with any needs in the moment,” said Emily. “We’re looking for volunteers who’ve had a lot of life experiences so they can relate to residents, family members and staff people. House friends become part of the family. They must commit to being in the house at least once per week, but it’s a flexible role so they can pick their schedule. Because it’s a volunteer experience that creates new relationships, they can really feel the impact they’re making.”

Volunteers of all ages are welcome, ranging from children to college students to young professions to older adults.

Learn more about volunteering at VMRC.

Best Blog Posts of 2017

December 18, 2017

Throughout the year, we brought you regular blog posts with tips about how to take better care of yourself and others, including the older adults in your life. Here we round up and share some of our favorite posts from 2017.

Protect Yourself Against Scams

Scammers use a combination of psychological tricks and technology to defraud people of all ages into sending money or revealing compromising personal information; however, older adults can be especially vulnerable to crooks who play upon the good will, naivety or trusting nature of their victims. Follow these tips to protect you and your loved ones against scams.

Tips For Healthier Eating Out

Eating out is a treat that many of us enjoy - one that can be more or less healthy depending on the choices we make while doing so. When you eat better, you feel better, prevent unwanted weight gain, have a healthier heart and live longer. Learn more about how to make healthy choices when you eat out.

Learn More About Depression: Signs and Treatment

Depression affects people of all ages, but older adults especially those with chronic health conditions or limited mobility face an increased risk. According to The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), between 1% and 5% of older adults living in the community are affected by depression. Rates rise to 11.5% in older hospital patients and to 13.5% in older adults who require home healthcare. Here’s what to watch for and how to get help with depression.

Seven Tips for Living Healthy with Diabetes

More than 29 million Americans have diabetes, according to an estimate by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). That’s approximately 9.3 percent of the U.S. population, a number that has been increasing over time. When you have diabetes, it’s important to manage your blood sugar. Learn some tips for being healthier as you live with and manage diabetes.

Travel Tips for Older Adults

Who doesn’t love a vacation? Summer is a great time to travel to many destinations, but sometimes actually getting there is a big challenge. Sorting out all the necessary travel logistics can be intimidating. So we talked with four VMRC residents - all experienced travelers - to get their best travel advice for older adults.

Make Decisions While You Still Can

Although 90 percent of people say that talking with their loved ones about end-of-life care is important, only about 27 percent have actually done so according to the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. Discussing topics like becoming incapacitated and dying can be difficult. Here’s what you need to know regarding important future healthcare decisions.

Harrisonburg Among Best Places To Retire

Named as one of 25 “Best Places to Retire” in July by Forbes Magazine, Harrisonburg, Virginia, is home to the Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community (VMRC). We asked some local experts what makes Harrisonburg such a good retirement location.

How To Prevent Falls

Falls are the number one cause of injuries and deaths among older Americans according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Over 800,000 patients per year are hospitalized at an average per fall cost of $30,000, mostly commonly due to broken hips and head injuries. Older adults and their caregivers can be proactive to reduce the risk of falling by taking these steps.


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“To be a participant in the Village has given me less stress in property maintenance and upkeep plus the bonus of more time to travel and offer some time in volunteer adventures.”

- Harley Showalter