Every life has a story worth telling. And when a life spans 7 to 10 decades, that story is worth celebrating. “When older adults reach this age, they have so much to share,” said Pamela Laroche, Life Enrichment Director for Kirkland Crossings. “Residents want to know more about their neighbors. They are sharing this later-year chapter of their lives together but, there were multiple chapters before.”
About two years ago, Pamela introduced the Resident Spotlight program as a way to capture, share and celebrate the remarkable life stories of residents. Twenty seven residents have been featured so far, one each month, for the entire month. “I started with Shirley Anderson, who had lived at Kirkland Crossing the longest,” she said.
Pam works with residents on the Life Enrichment Committee to consider and select their fellow residents to profile. There’s no formal criterion and candidates are chosen according to whom the committee feels will be of interest to the whole community. Candidates arise from many meaningful conversations that uncover personal anecdotes and experiences. Residents may also nominate themselves if they would like to share their life with others and every year, one staff member is featured.
Once selected, Pamela gets to work with the resident and their family. She interviews the resident for 1 to 2 hours, sometimes in multiple sessions, to learn the highlights of their life. “I ask about family history, how they met their spouse and raised their children, what their career was like including military service,” Pamela said. “I especially want to know what changes they’ve seen in their lifetime,” she said.
Then she asks the resident and their family to gather up photos, correspondences, military service insignia, awards, personal belongings and other significant and symbolic items. With these treasures, she creates a community display that illustrates the resident’s life.
Pam looks in earnest to uncover the stories a resident might not have shared before. “I’m always moved when family members are surprised to learn something about their loved one that they never knew until the Spotlight project,” she said. “I want to capture the wisdom and experiences of a generation before it’s lost,” Pamela explains. “It’s a legacy for their family, an education and act of friendship for their peers and upholds the value of a person’s life,” she said.
Toward the end of each month, the community gathers for Resident Spotlight Day, a social event to celebrate the resident in the Spotlight. Pamela sits down with the resident in front of the group and interviews her or him face to face. It’s not unusual for audience questions and comments to arise. “They often share their stories about their relationship with the honored resident, such as how they first met or when they received an act of kindness or hospitality from the resident in the Spotlight,” said Pamela. She passes the microphone to family members who want to add to the conversation and share a story or two.
Among those who have been in the Resident Spotlight is Mike Weigl, who has lived at Kirkland Crossing since 2011. A WWII Army veteran, Mike told the dramatic story about serving in combat in Europe for which he received a Silver Star. He recalled his 64-year marriage to Doris, who died in 2010, and the five sons they raised together. With a twinkle in his eye, he shared a more recent chapter when he met his second wife, Ruby, on Kirkland Crossings van, how they fell in love and were married by the Chaplain and how blessed he felt every day until she passed away last year. Among several personal items, Mike’s Silver Star, alongside photos of Dorothy, his sons and Ruby were featured the display case— his greatest treasures.
When resident LeRoy Schissel turned 100 this past October, Pamela knew he was the Spotlight candidate of the month. “It was a wonderful occasion to celebrate his rich and long life,” she said. She appreciated the support from LeRoy’s son George who helped gather stories and materials “George told me that his dad doesn’t talk, but I filled over two pages from my conversation with LeRoy!” she laughed. Pamela remembers how deeply she was moved by George’s telling about LeRoy’s life at the monthly gathering, which doubled as a birthday party!
Pamela has seen how the Resident Spotlight program strengthens the community at Kirkland Crossings. “It makes us feel like a family,” she said. She recalls how one resident who seemed lonely and isolated said to her, “I’m sure everyone thinks I’m just a crabby old lady.” Pamela invited her to tell her story through the Resident Spotlight. When the resident shared the many challenges she had faced and overcome throughout her lifetime that her neighbors never knew, “The result was people approaching her differently, more positively and inviting her to join them at mealtime and in activities. It changed her life at Kirkland Crossing and now I see her smiling more,” Pamela said.
Pamela can attest that the Resident Spotlight program demonstrates the PHS mission to honor God by enriching the lives and touching the hearts of older adults. “When residents know their neighbor’s stories, including their joys and burdens, it changes first impressions to deeper understanding and expands compassion and empathy. It builds intimacy and familiarity so mutual respect and appreciation increase and the residents’ lives are blessed,” she said.