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More than a summer job


Reflections from a university student, on her summer job with Presbyterian Homes & Services

Christy Quiner served as a Community Support Assistant in The Arbor memory care at SummerWood of Chanhassen in Minnesota.

I thought my time at SummerWood of Chanhassen would be merely a summer job. I hoped that in the middle of COVID-19, serving at a senior living community would allow me to make a difference and bless people. As it turns out, I am the one who has been blessed.

The Staff:
Taking time to know each other

The staff at SummerWood of Chanhassen cares for one another. I have seen this since my first day, when Campus Administrator Amy Stock gave me a tour of the community. We stopped often to chat with residents and staff. “How are their kids?” “How did the doctor’s appointment go?” It was then I realized that SummerWood is more than a place to live or serve—it is a caring family.
Christy pours tea for MildredPeople showed their kindness in little ways that made a great impact on me. Lucy, one of the receptionists, quickly memorized my name. She also took the time to get to know me so well that I thought she could read my mind. When I asked her for the “what-cha-ma-call-it,” she understood exactly what I needed. Lucy made me feel known and cared for.
The housekeepers are phenomenal. They take care of each other and all of us with a passion. Every day began with Zeny, the Arbor housekeeper, cheerfully wishing me a good morning. When I passed housekeepers in the hall, they smiled and waved hello. In the breakroom, they asked me how my day was going. One morning in the Arbor kitchen, we ran out of paper towels. By the time I tracked down a housekeeper, another had heard of my search and already refilled them.
Another caring person is Linda. We bonded over gardening the Arbor patio, our introverted personalities and our love for the residents. I trusted Linda enough to share my struggles with her. She said she cared for me as if I were her daughter. Before long, we started planning themed parties for the residents on Wednesdays  (see photos, above and left). When the residents got hooked on The Great British Bakeoff, Linda and I threw a British tea party. We decorated the TV room with streamers, British flag banners, and hand-made name tents. The kitchen staff went all out and made chocolate truffles with melt-in-your-mouth filling. My own mom and sister helped me make faux flower corsages for every resident in The Arbor. On my final day at Summerwood, it filled me with such joy to see some of the residents still wearing the corsages or keeping them in their walker baskets. I would be leaving to resume university classes, yet the residents would still have a part of me. I knew a part of them would remain in my memories and heart as well.

The Residents in The Arbor:
Invitations into their lives

The residents are very caring and also treated me like I was family. While I was serving meals, they would invite me to sit and eat with them. Sometimes a resident would invite me into their apartment to share their favorite memories. Pictures of grandchildren; a teaching award; a Precious Moments collection that grows with each Christmas; paintings and other crafts. I was touched that the residents lovingly shared a part of themselves with me. It was beautiful.
One morning I was on my knees in the Arbor patio, plucking weeds from the cobblestones. A resident knelt down and started helping me. I told her she didn’t need to, but she said she wanted to. We started chatting and soon we were laughing together. The summer sun was smiling on us. Birds sang over the pond and classic heartthrobs crooned on the radio. But even better than the summer day was the resident who cared to help me. When we were done, she surveyed the clean patio and beamed saying, “You know, I’m really proud of the work we did. But honestly, I can’t wait for the weeds to grow back so we can do this again!”
Another caring resident in The Arbor does not struggle with memory loss. He is a husband who moved with his wife so he could always support her. He set aside his own desires to care for his wife, whether she could fully realize it or not. It is the side of romance rarely told, where “happily ever after” grows into “I will be by your side because this is what love looks like.”

Real Life, Real Family:
In The Arbor, and at the Home Office

Real life is not a fairy tale, and not all days are good. Sometimes, when a resident’s arthritic hands hurt so much they couldn’t color, I was honored to massage the hands that have cared for so many others. Sometimes a resident was missing their family so much I sat with them in the sun-room one-on-one, listening to their favorite songs and reassuring them they were loved. Sometimes a resident didn’t feel like eating breakfast, so I would sit with them later that morning to enjoy cookies and a book with fall scenes and poetry. Even if the residents couldn’t say it, the smiles in their eyes said more than a thousand well-spoken words. And somehow, that smile lit my eyes, too.
I started the summer looking for work but I ended up getting a family. I wanted to serve others but I find the funny thing with love is that the more I pour it out, the more I receive. I wanted to bless others, but I was blessed by the staff and residents at Summerwood of Chanhassen. I wanted to find a job but I found a ministry. Now I serve as a communication intern at the PHS Home Office and, once again, I feel like I’m part of a big family.
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