Employee Spotlights, Resident Spotlights

The life enrichment pro: ‘I do something meaningful – I connect people’



Today we share a story from our Better Together series in honor of National Activities Professionals Week.

Life Enrichment Services Director Nancy Schwartz says that more than 200 life enrichment professionals of Presbyterian Homes & Services (PHS) help residents pursue purpose and good old-fashioned fun in their later years.

better together

“I just love seeing our whole team making a difference every single day,” Nancy says. “Families and the community see it, too, on social media. It’s giving everyone hope during these challenging times — it gives me hope.”

Connecting people campus to campus

On Facebook is where anyone can see, for example, photos from a recent Wii® bowling tournament in southeastern Wisconsin. Life enrichment professionals organized the event to connect residents from five PHS communities – and to strike a little friendly competition!

“They LOVE to see residents from other Presbyterian Homes communities. I don’t know what it is,” comments Andrea Zeitler, life enrichment director at Kirkland Crossings in Pewaukee, WI. “When we did our Wii bowling tournament, they were like, ‘Now where do you live? How big is your apartment?’ And all that fun stuff.”

Watch: Wii bowling tournament at Presbyterian Homes & Services:

‘To live as fully as they can’

“Contentment and happiness [are] born of connection, meaning, and purpose,” writes Louise Aronson in her 2019 New York Times bestselling book Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life. “With aging and in old age, resilience requires accepting you are still yourself despite changes, losses, and limitations” and “finding a purpose that may differ from prior goals and inspires learning or helping someone else or going somewhere new.”

The work of PHS Life Enrichment is to “engage seniors to live as fully as they can,” says Donna Olsen, life enrichment director at Lake Minnetonka Shores in Spring Park, MN. “We provide the means and the setting, but they come up with a lot of their own ideas. It’s helping them help themselves.”

Andrea adds, “Life Enrichment helps extend people’s lives … My grandma in her 80s didn’t think she was going to live much longer. But she moved to Presbyterian Homes, and she joined in on all the activities and wound up living another 15 years at Avalon Square!

“She also volunteered in the fitness center and café,” Andrea continues. “So, residents make new friends and new purpose in life, kind of all over again.”

As a result, Donna reflects, “It makes you feel good about your job. I do something meaningful. I’m connecting people.”

Heroic, unstoppable and out of the box

During the past two years of the pandemic, our life enrichment professionals have been heroically rearranging schedules, cheerleading and flexing their creative muscles.


“You have to be creative – you can’t just give up,” says Donna. “It was very discouraging. There were days I would just break down when I had to cancel [activities]. You plan so hard. We got through it. And the residents are so encouraging and understanding. They thanked us for being there and helping them.”

Nancy chimes in, reflecting, “The last couple of years have certainly been about a lot of out-of-the-box thinking. How can we do things in an entirely new way — everything that we do, how can we do it differently and still offer this? And enrich lives. They were awesome.”

Overwhelming benefits of teamwork

The life enrichment team is emerging stronger than ever across more than 50 communities.

About her regional teammates Andrea says, “Every day, all day, we connect with each other and make sure we’re on the same page. You know, ‘What are you guys doing? What can we do here? It flows perfectly, and we all get along really well. When we get together, I’m usually crying from laughing so hard. … It just really helps build up the team when we do things together. It’s more fun.”

All that fun and collaboration spill over, enriching the lives of older adults. “[The intercampus events] are a chance for residents to collaborate and see what we’re doing at other sites,” says Andrea. “They’ll say, ‘Well, if you guys do that, maybe we can do that, too.’

“So, residents are happy at any community they live at.”

Do you know someone looking for more purpose in their work? Share the good news and the many opportunities to join our team at www.preshomes.org/careers.

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