At this year’s Pioneer Network, I learned a lot and have tips to share:

It starts with a vision and a dream!  If you don’t know where you are going, how do you know the path to follow – or if you ever made it?  

So much happens behind the scenes. There are many hours of planning and preparing with many people contributing their time and talent that all needs to happen before the conference opens. That is also true of the work you do as you create home for Elders and a positive workplace culture for your teams. All that work is not easy, but it’s necessary and worth it. It’s what happens behind the scenes that helps to creates the “magic.”    

It’s okay if everything isn’t perfect. Anyone who has planned a new program or process in their community, or has been in charge of a special event, knows that there are always “hiccups.” But the good news is, if you don’t let it fluster you, if you can just step back, take a breath, and figure out Plan B, then all will be good. And most people won’t even know the hiccup occurred!  

Not everything goes as planned.  This year, we tried something new – The Engagement Expo.  We had 15-minute “stand-up micro learning” sessions on topics related to engagement and enriching resident life.  We had great guides and inspiring content. I envisioned over-flowing sign-up sheets and having to turn people away.  Alas, that is not what happened.

The crowds around the tables were not as big as we hoped, and it would be easy to say it didn’t work.  BUT for those who did participate, there was value and the guides shared some positive interactions. It’s like that new “program” you try for residents that only two people show up for.  The thing to remember is that two people showed up for it!  

You have more ideas than time.  I don’t know about you, but we always have more ideas of things to do during our four days together than we have time to do it.  It’s okay to pace yourself, and sometimes you just have to say no!  

The airlines have it right – Putting on your Oxygen (O2) Mask First is a good idea!  Lots of folks took the time to join us for the O2 mask events – Yoga, Chair Chi, Stress Reduction and walks.  Others enjoyed time with friends over a glass of wine or a leisurely cruise on the Riverboat.  

Communication is hard!  No matter how hard you try to communicate — at the right time, to the right people, using different mediums -—communication failures will happen. Don’t give up – just try again! Remember, when possible, face to face is the best.

Being a leader isn’t always easy.  Sometimes you are running on fumes, and yet, you know that your energy impacts the team, in ways you had never even imagined.  You need to reach deep at times to find that last bit of energy, and here’s the secret to finding it.  

Refueling comes from those we serve. In a community setting, when things are getting you down and you just wonder if It’s all worth it, the best thing to do is to visit with residents and staff. Engage in conversation, participate in a game or event. Share some smiles and laughter. For the Pioneer Network conference team, our fuel comes from the attendees. It’s when the first group comes in and we share smiles and hugs with old and new friends. It’s when someone stops you and asks what they can do to help. That’s when we know that all the hard work was worth it!  

We work best when we work together. Sometimes we find ourselves in an “us and them” way of thinking.  But what we were reminded of in Louisville is that it is just “us!” Together we learned and shared with skilled nursing, assisted living, and home and community-based service providers, elders, vendors, educators, surveyors and ombudsmen. Guess what – we share the same vision!  

And finally, a lesson from this year’s Community Commitment Award Recipients.  

The limits are only what we set for ourselves.  This year, we again honored communities for their commitment to service through the 2nd Annual Community Commitment Awards, sponsored by Pioneer Network and Rockport Healthcare Services.  This year’s recipients reminded us of the possibilities that exist for all of us.  

The Grandfriend Program from Chelsea Place, a Memory Care Assisted Living community in Aurora, CO, is a place where engagement with the broader community, and with children, is a part of their DNA. Reading with first graders is the tip of the iceberg for the Grandfriend’s Program. It is about reaching and teaching children through storybooks. It’s about the elders teaching facts and dispelling myths about dementia and aging.

For the Concession Stand Heroes from Washington Rehab and Nursing Center in Chipley, FL, it started with an unmet need. The local Parks and Recreation Department needed a group who could consistently provide services to help run the concession stand at sporting events including basketball, T-Ball, Softball, and Little League games. For the elder council at Washington Rehabilitation, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to interact and serve the community. By serving the community through the concessions program, the elders not only have a renewed sense of purpose, they have made meaningful connections.

For the Community Outreach Committee from Regal Palms in Largo, FL  It began in August 2017, when the Montessori Inspired Lifestyle was implemented at Regal Palms, an approach that focuses on individuals’ strengths and promotes opportunities for success each day. It was this approach that inspired residents to form the Community Outreach Committee whose mission is to find ways to contribute to worthy causes in the broader community. Through this program, the residents are tearing down the barriers that “this person cannot do this because they are living with dementia.” The residents of Regal Palms are proving that everyone has the ability to contribute to society.

As we are often reminded, Culture Change is a journey, not a destination.  It is not a journey for the faint of heart, but it is a journey worth the effort. And when you are searching for that beacon of light to guide you, remember, let the elders be your guide!

Joan Devine is the Director of Education at Pioneer Network.