Image caption: Social Service Coordinator Monica Grasse pictured with Honey, service dog and pet of staff member, David McClenthen.
Monica Grasse hasn’t been with Embrace Living Communities long, but the social service coordinator has already made so many meaningful memories with those at the Greencastle of Mulford (Rockford, IL) community, many of which, she was kind enough to share.
Read the motivation behind her work, why she believes senior social connections are so important, and what she’s learned in just her relatively short time.
How long have you been at Embrace Living Communities and what is your title?
I’m a Social Service Coordinator at the Mulford community and I’ve been here about a year.
What were you doing before working at Embrace Living Communities? Have you always worked with seniors?
I haven’t. I’m a mother of two children and after my divorce, I went back to work. I’ve always enjoyed working with kids, and I found myself working in an autism classroom of a school and really enjoying it. What I’ll tell you is, the experiences there really helped change my perspective on a lot of things for the better, both personally and professionally. It also helped to just change my perspective on people and their situations. I learned about ways to interact with kids who have different disabilities, and the different ways to communicate with them.
After five years, I needed to start looking for something different for my family, and I knew someone who worked directly with seniors at one of the communities and took an interest in her job. At the time I asked her about it, there just so happened to be an opening, so that was neat how that worked out.
How was the transition for you?
I was nervous about the transition at first because my experience with seniors was limited to my grandparents, who I was close with growing up. After my grandma’s daughter from Rockford passed away, I kind of became the go-to caregiver in town for her. So, I was nervous about the transition, but I found that it was pretty seamless. And, I can’t take all the credit for that because I had a great support team here, who were really, really patient and shared helpful things with me.
So the way things have come together hasn’t entirely been all me, but I do feel a sense that I was meant to be here. I really like it here, I really do.
What does your average day-to-day look like as a Social Service Coordinator?
Well, every day is different here, which is something that I like about the job, but I’d say it varies. In working directly with the residents, it can change from day-to-day. One day, I might be helping someone with their Department of Health and Human Services benefit with Medicaid and insurance questions, questions about their electric bill and how to apply for help with those bills. Another day, it may simply be listening to them share their feeling about things they’re negotiating either in their own lives or with other people in the building.
Overall, my goal is to support the seniors in staying here, in their homes, for as long as possible. Sometimes that looks like working on improving quality of life.
What are some of the things you do to improve the residents’ quality of life?
I encourage them to take as many wellness classes as they can here, so we have a few of those where we bring people in to show them how to exercise on a regular basis. I try to bring in different speakers who talk about different types of wellness. For example, I may have a speaker come in to talk about maintaining balance, or I may coordinate having someone come in to talk about navigating grief.
Are residents’ inputs included in the coordination of these classes?
We brought someone in from a local hospital who was recommended by a resident because of how she’d helped that resident get better balance. So our resident recommended a local program, and I reached out to that person and brought her in.
Other times, classes may be a result of any noticeable trends. For example, a lot of residents still haven’t gotten their power of attorney settled, so we’re having someone come in to talk about that.
What are some of the challenges in your role?
Maybe the challenge would be to prioritize. I have to determine, in all of the number of things I could be dealing with every day, which things are the priorities. Sometimes, what I think is the priority isn’t necessarily a priority to the residents, so that takes a little bit of finagling to do.
Tell us about the Mulford community. How does the community like to spend time together?
Well, we are unique in that we have a meal program here, so residents regularly come to lunch. That’s their time where they’re already scheduled to meet together, which is really nice. Beyond that, there are a bunch of different groups that schedule card games in the evenings with each other. There are different religious groups that meet in the evenings around the community. Another favorite, honestly, is bingo, which is probably the most well attended activity. It’s really cool that it’s resident run- we have a volunteer here who will pick up the prizes for the winners.
When we’re able to do some local lunch trips, we have a good showing for that as well. As a social service coordinator, the plus to those trips is that I get more information from residents since we’re all out in a group together. It’s nice because sometimes that news can be really helpful for me to know. I may hear so and so’s not feeling well and they didn’t call to tell me, so I’ll know to go check up on them later. That kind of thing.
Why do you think the Mulford community is as vibrant as it is?
I really feel that the staff here has put a great amount of energy and care into this place. They created a culture where it’s just expected that you’re genuine and that you work hard and treat residents as if they’re your family. I saw that right away.
I’ve also noticed that the staff is also incredibly supportive of each other. There’s not a lot of hyper criticism, it’s more about how can I help you? How can I help you do your job better? I really appreciated that.
What are some of your favorite memories since you’ve been working at ELC?
One of my favorite memories is spontaneously building a snowman with residents. The residents named him Mr. Greencastle. Residents who were able helped outside, and residents who had some mobility challenges helped by directing through the window. A 90-year-old resident brought down one of her hats for him. Another sent a staff member on a mission for a giant carrot from the kitchen. One resident had a little fun and brought him the walker she had been using. We were all quite proud. A simple, fun, moment of joy.
I also have extremely fond memories of last year’s cowboy themed lunch; we called it ‘Rompin’ on the Range.’ I was so impressed by the creativity of all the staff! Some staff found these adorable cactus and cowboy boot favors for the tables. Others researched games and treats on Pinterest and taught us a line dance. Someone else brought her live chickens. Another brought country décor and bales of hay. Our kitchen staff worked their tails off making a special lunch. If we didn’t bond over the work and time together we sure as heck bonded over the life-sized cowboy Elvis cutout, the line dance, and live chickens! One residents called it our best event ever! I fully attribute that to how we all got creative and worked together.
Why is it important for seniors to maintain social relationships?
Socially, for the residents, I really believe that engagement contributes to wellness. You can be physically healthy, and not have a good quality of life if you have social poverty. I’ve kind of seen that connecting with people really affects your mood, and that it also affects your health. So that’s why I think it’s important.
Can you talk a little bit about the value of preserving those special times, especially among older adults?
I know they’re valuable because they’ve been valuable to me as a granddaughter. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot. I lost my mom to suicide, I worked with groups of kids with autism… I’ve just been through moments that have been really challenging in my life. And the things that have helped me through those moments have been knowing that there are other moments that are great. Being reminded of that on a regular basis has really helped me, personally. That’s why I try to capture, create, and support moments for other people that remind them that life is not all hard. There’s a lot of enjoyment in it. It’s just helps to tip that balance a little bit more.
How have some of the residents (or the ELC community as a whole) positively affected you?
I believe we all have something to learn from each other. Sometimes the lesson requires practicing patience. Sometimes the lessons are a whole lot of warm and fuzzy. I have experienced and witnessed acts of kindness here that underline how we are able to make a real difference in each other’s lives no matter how simple the extension of ourselves.
I’ve also learned about resilience. Life is full of a whole lot of hard, and most residents by now have experienced some form of loss; some have experienced multiple losses. I have seen how they continue to pursue hope and purpose one day at a time. I have so much respect for that, and I am encouraged by it. It doesn’t mean they aren’t real about what they are going through. I have been deeply honored when they have shared their true thoughts and feelings.
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