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Every Moment Matters - Guest Post with Karina Stickle

This month we're excited to hear from Karina Stickle, an incredible human who is passionate about all things senior care, life enrichment, and overall zest for life. Her enthusiasm is contagious! Karina is currently Content and Community Program Manager with GetSetUp as well as host of Engaged in Rec, a podcast she began in 2021. We know you'll be touched as you read about her experience in senior living communities and the personal stories she shares.

I remember being 18 years old and not quite ready for college or university yet. Still, instead of taking a victory lap at high school, I decided to sign up for a traveling youth volunteer program called Katimavik.  Back in the day, this program allowed youth aged 17-21 to travel across Canada for nine months, volunteering full-time at amazing organizations, learning different languages and life skills like cooking, conflict resolution, budgeting, and essentially everything you would need to know to be a functional adult.  The best part was that it was free. 

I took these nine months to volunteer at an assortment of organizations and try to dive into what interested me and as my parents said, “figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up” (spoiler alert - I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up). But, I reluctantly signed on the dotted line to volunteer within a memory care community having never been exposed to seniors, let alone people with cognitive concerns.  And I fell in love.

They say you’re not supposed to choose favorites, but everyone remembers some of their first residents. I remember him clear as day because we spent a lot of time together. He was the perfect resident for a volunteer to spend time with.  He was slightly confused, incredibly happy, rarely had family visit him, and just needed some extra attention and love. I was fortunate enough to get to learn his story, laugh, and smile with him. 

It was St. Patrick’s Day and we had joined each other early in the morning for breakfast, and then for an exercise class. After the program, I walked him to the dining room where I reminded him that I’d be back to his suite to pick him up for the St. Patrick’s Day party after lunch. He gave me a wink and said, “You Betchya”. 

But, when I went to pick him up after lunch, he was lying in bed not moving…or breathing. 

It was my first experience spending time in a senior living setting, my first experience getting to know an older adult who wasn’t a family member, and my first experience with death. From that moment on I decided I wanted to make sure that every moment truly counted for every resident because you just never know when the moments could end. 

For the past twenty years, I’ve kept coming back to that statement - make every moment count because you never know when the moments can end. Every moment matters.

That experience changed the trajectory of my life as I came home from my year of “voluntravel” and focused on working with older adults. I worked in a memory care community for over twelve years and then helped open a brand new assisted living/independent living community. I started a podcast called Engaged In Rec Podcast for Activity Professionals to learn about the resources that are available to them within senior living. Eventually, my in-person work ended as I broke into agetech where programming is done virtually to reach more people.

Despite having the opportunity to work in all of these different settings, I learned the commonalities - that these people we’re working with have stories, they have memories, they have knowledge, and they need to feel connected.

That’s why the role of the Activity Professional (or Lifestyle Manager, Life Enrichment Director, etc) is so incredibly important. 

Labeled as the “Fun Team” (which I smile, yet cringe every time I hear), we’re the personalities that are often told that “we must entertain all of the residents all of the time”. But, that’s not why we’re here.

Like many others, I came into this role because I wanted to make moments matter and those moments can truly be the smallest, yet most meaningful. I came into the role because I wanted to figure out who the person was before they moved in, learn about what their passions were/are, and figure out what our next steps in life together are, as a team.  

Whether the moment is getting Mary up and walking again because she always loved going for walks in the garden. Or helping John create a presentation so he can practice public speaking in front of his peers again and that gave him purpose. It could be connecting Eric with his buddies from the police force on zoom to reminisce and joke around again. Or it could be letting Sandra brush your hair because her daughters live far away and she misses them.  

But, what it all comes down to is the privilege that we as activity professionals working with older adults have, and that is to make every moment matter.


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