Category: Miscellaneous

Traumatic past turns to strength and guidance

“Who knew from concrete a flower could grow?”

I faced every type of horror imaginable as a child, but I have overcome that trauma and turned it into strength. But I didn’t always recognize that ability.

From the time I was 12 until I was 18 years old, I was in and out of foster homes, placements, residential programs and shelters. Separated from my siblings and my home, I was constantly looking for a place to plant my feet.

One of the first stops was a month-long wilderness challenge-based experience for troubled adolescents with Diakon Youth Services.

Transported to South Carolina with several counselors, we were expected to hike the whole way back to Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, I was homesick, dealing with anger and not emotionally ready for the experience, so on day 16, I decided I was done. I set my backpack down and refused to move. As a ward of the state, I felt I had nothing to lose. Eventually, they would call my case worker and send me back on a plane.

Years later, with time and a different perspective, I was able to see the value of that experience. But at the time, all I understood was that if I allowed myself to feel, bad things would happen.

For the next six years, I bounced from placement to placement. Just before my 18th birthday, I met the first foster parents who, despite my resistance, would not give up on me and encouraged me to do the right thing. They became a huge part of my life. With their encouragement, I spent the next few years figuring out who I was and what I wanted, enjoying life and making my own choices.

After two years living in Arizona, I returned to the area and threw myself into work as a server and cook. When I was 26 years old, I struck a conversation with a couple about my career goals that would set me on my current path. The woman invited me to visit her at the Diakon Wilderness Center, where she worked. When I arrived on the mountainous campus, it immediately took me back to my first wilderness experience. This time, however, I was ready.

The program director encouraged me to stay the weekend, shadow the counselors, work with the kids and see if the work would interest me. Of course, it did! What better place than here to show these youths that there are people who care. Being able to make a positive experience for other kids has made me realize why I went through all the trauma I did as a child.

If I hadn’t experienced it, how would I connect with these kids and help them get past their trauma?

I have been with Diakon Youth Services a little more than four years, and I still feel strongly that my work here as a counselor has purpose. Working with youths is not always easy, but when you experience those moments when a kid truly opens up, it is all worth it. We get to show them there are people who care, who want them to succeed and who see the better part of them.

That has been especially true for me here at Diakon, where I have been supported and encouraged by people at all levels of the organization. Because of them and Diakon’s tuition assistance program, I recently enrolled in college and am pursuing a degree in psychology. They helped me realize that my passion and life experience, combined with a college education, will improve my work with the youths as well.

For most of my life, I felt I wasn’t doing anything for myself. I questioned the reason for the pain and trauma I had experienced and wondered what my purpose in life was. Now, I understand that I am able to give back by helping people, using what hurt me to inspire others. I want them to understand that while our pain does shape us, it is up to each of us to choose what that shape becomes.

Christina created this artwork to visualize what it is like to live with depression and anxiety.

By Christina Bowers
Counselor, Diakon Youth Services

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Patient turned faithful volunteer

I volunteer two days a week at Frey Village, but it’s just not long enough.

After I spent several weeks recuperating from back surgery in the village’s health care and rehabilitation center, I knew I wanted to return. I sympathized with the patients and residents who didn’t have many visitors and jumped at the chance to volunteer when asked. My job is to help with activities, deliver mail and make visitations.

The part I like best is visiting with people. I ask how they are doing, talk about their hobbies, anything to break up their day a bit. I really enjoy the connections I have made and have found I have a lot in common with many of them. We get to talking, and it makes the time fly for both of us!

I know from personal experience that when you lie in bed all day with nothing to do, it makes for a long day. While I was recovering from my back surgery, I initially had difficulty walking. With the help of physical therapy, I improved to where I could use a walker. That was a game-changer and I soon was getting get out of bed and walking in my walker all over the building!

It was during those walks that I met some of the people I visit today now that I am fully recovered. One woman, for example, knows my sister-in-law. She would talk with her whenever she visited the grocery store where she worked. I know another man’s whole family—I went to school with one of them and lived down the street from the other. In fact, some of residents were surprised to see me come in—because they knew me as a patient!

I empathize with many of them who are struggling with physical challenges, and I sympathize with those who feel forgotten by family and friends. That is why at the end of my six- or seven-hour shift, I often feel as if that wasn’t enough time to do everything I wanted to do.

I’d go every day, if I could. In fact, I wish I had started volunteering sooner.

I’m retired so I have the time to give and the desire to help. But it is the big smiles that greet me every visit that motivate me to do more. They all ask me to return, but they don’t need to worry.

I’ll be back.

Frey Village Volunteer Gary Shomper is a retiree who lives in Highspire, Pennsylvania.

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Milestones for the mission

Last year, I celebrated my 10-year work anniversary at Diakon. As the social media and digital communications manager, I couldn’t help but reflect on how much my job has evolved over the years. When I started here, Facebook was just gaining momentum, my phone wasn’t “smart” and faxing was still common!

One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is my enthusiasm to work for an organization that serves so many people. What’s even more important and humbling is the fact those sentiments are shared by staff throughout Diakon. We recently implemented a new way of recognizing staff anniversaries, asking staff members to discuss their experiences being one of Diakon’s Many Hands, guided by One Heart of compassion and care:

“Simply put, Diakon’s mission is to serve. One thing I find neat about Diakon is that we serve two different populations. We serve children through [such programs as] adoption and foster care and then also serve older adults. Additionally, I have great admiration for all the charity care Diakon gives, and the fact no one has to leave what is their home due to [financial challenges]. These two aspects make Diakon stand out from other facilities and make me, as an employee, glad to say I am a part of helping Diakon fulfill its mission. Reminding myself of these exceptional services … and that I am a part of fulfilling this mission to serve … has helped me push through any tough times during my 10 years with Diakon. It also helps me to continue to give back the highest quality of work I am able to perform to ensure this mission continues to be fulfilled.” – Amanda Reinhard, Luther Crest, 10-year anniversary

“I wear many hats here at the Diakon Ministry Support office, but my favorite is overseeing the benevolent care program. I enjoy working with residents and families when the resident no longer has the funds to pay privately for care. It’s a great feeling to be able to tell the resident or family that they do not have to leave their facility just because they can no longer afford to stay. As long as they meet all of the criteria for the program, they can remain where they are …. In addition, everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. By everyone, I mean our residents, family members and co-workers that we see every day and those that we interact with only occasionally. I do everything I can to treat others as I would like to be treated.” – Vonnie Hinds, Ministry Support, 5-year anniversary

“A favorite aspect of my role is developing relationships with children and families. I feel honored to help those in need and I’m proud of the work that I do.” – Kelly Smith, Diakon Adoption & Foster Care, 15-year anniversary

As you can see, Diakon’s mission truly does inspire the work we do each day. And that is one more reason, as you’ll note, our anniversaries are not just of one or two years but very often of 10, 15 or 20 years … or even more.

By Melissa Kindall
Manager, Social Media and Digital Communications Manager
Corporate Communications & Public Relations

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Amenities enrich life in a senior living community

“We knew we’d love the maintenance-free living we’d experience when we moved here—but we never dreamed how busy we’d be with all the events and activities the community offers.”

That’s a comment we often hear from new residents of Diakon Senior Living Services communities and I make sure I impress upon prospective residents the importance of an active lifestyle.

Not only do the residents gain access to a beautiful new home, but they also get to enjoy all the amenities available on site!

In fact, many residents initially do not realize how integral a role supportive, enriching activities are to the lifestyle we offer. Some even tend to think of them as “icing on the cake” of senior living, but they are far more than that.

From welcoming venues across the campus to exercise classes, social programs and more, amenities help residents to experience daily joy and activity, adding to overall well-being and fulfillment.
 
Click here to learn about just some of the life-enriching amenities you can find at various senior living communities, dependent on location…

The value of intergenerational relationships

A few months ago, I attended a women’s breakfast with an intergenerational theme. My daughter performed there as a “millennial” in a skit that highlighted just how different she was from her “mother,” the Generation X-er and her “grandmother,” the Baby Boomer.

The skit was funny and light-hearted as the players tried to plan a baby shower from their three different—and stereotypical—perspectives. But, as can happen, interactions became a bit heated when they tried to push their own agendas. Eventually, however, instead of being frustrated with one another, they decided to focus on their similarities rather than differences and work together.

If our society could learn to do that in real life, I believe we could get so much more accomplished! It often also is interesting to experience a different point of view. And that was the point they were trying to make in the skit.

I work for an organization that serves people of every generation and I love the perspective it offers.

A “dino”-mite marketing campaign

While I hate clichés, sometimes thinking “outside the box” can be a great idea, even if occasionally a daunting task.

A few years back, we were tasked with developing a direct mail marketing-focused post card for one of our senior living communities. But think about your mail for a moment and recall how many such cards you receive weekly.

So the goal for any such card is to get picked up and at least looked at.

For some reason—perhaps that book by Roy Chapman Andrews of the American Museum of Natural History I read at night as a child, the blanket pulled over my head to avoid parental discovery, a flashlight held by my teeth—I thought: dinosaurs.

A shared respect for the past

As Diakon’s unofficial historian for both the Tressler Lutheran Home for Children and the Topton Orphans Home, I am concerned about the ultimate preservation of the artifacts that remain from these orphanages, particularly when you consider one is now 150 years old.

For example, our “history closet” contains the painted portraits of Col. John Tressler and his son, Capt. David Loy Tressler—the founders of the classical academy and then soldiers’ orphans home purchased in 1868 by the Lutheran church, creating the Tressler Orphans Home. I assume the paintings date to the late 1800s.

When I brought out the portraits last year to photograph for our anniversary video, I found some of their paint was flecking, the image of Capt. David with a slight tear in it.

To my amazement, I found a nationally recognized art conservationist in nearby Carlisle, Pennsylvania, so one day soon, I will be loading the two large portraits into my vehicle and transporting them for repair.

Feeling overwhelmed

I stared at my rambunctious foster dog running circles through my living room wondering how on earth after two weeks she was still living with us.

I did not anticipate having her this long; she was with us strictly as a temporary rescue mission. She’s a great dog, but we just don’t have the space or time to do this long-term.

Around work and my normal commitments, I’ve been helping my oldest daughter organize a benefit concert as a fundraiser for her upcoming mission trip. My youngest daughter is in her post-season playoffs for field hockey, which translates to my being at games, college recruiting visits, making mac and cheese for team pasta parties and helping plan the end-of-the-year banquet.

And now it’s early November. You know what that means. It doesn’t matter that you just handed out candy to trick-or-treaters because now it’s officially the holiday season.

So how is someone who is already feeling overwhelmed head into the most overwhelming time of the year?

During two anniversaries, a different type of looking back

Three for the price of one. That is, three beginnings to this single blog post.

Here’s the first:
The fire scanner squawked across the newsroom. I was on city desk that night and, knowing the lack of fondness my reporter-comrade had for covering fires, I decided to head out. Pretty significant house fire so I never got back to write the story until about 2 a.m.

The next morning I had to make a more-than-one-hour drive to Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, for a 9 a.m. interview for a public relations position with Tressler-Lutheran Service Associates. I was barely awake throughout the interview.

Somehow, I was offered the position and, after having spent nearly two weeks driving family and friends crazy with my indecision, I accepted it.

Forty years ago.

Here’s the second:
“Bill,” said the ED at one of Diakon’s senior living communities, “forty years—you should write about that, especially this year, as we celebrate our 150th anniversary.”

“Nah,” I said in return.

But here I go.

And the third and final start:
“You are going to have to be like Yoda,” the Rev. Mark Wimmer, Diakon’s vice president for church relations and ministry partnerships, said to me.

What, I wondered? Small and green?

“Whenever anyone wonders about our history,” he continued, “you will just have to pop out of thin air and tell us about it.”

Okay. I’m game for that. Do I get force?

* * *

Adjusting to your new senior living lifestyle

After all the hard work of planning, narrowing down choices and making the big move, you’re finally settled into your new senior living community. Your family helped you move in. They’ve called almost every day. You’ve met a handful of new people. But community life is still very new—and you wonder how long it will take before you start to feel at home.

This scenario is more common than you might think among older adults who make the move to senior living.

While the relocation process can be exciting, after the hustle and bustle of moving day ends, new residents can feel unsure what to do next or how to integrate into their new community. No matter how old we get, huge changes in our lifestyles inevitably come with an adjustment period.

If your recent move to senior living has you feeling a bit out of place, don’t worry! You didn’t make a mistake—it just sometimes takes time to adjust to a new way of living. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to shorten that adjustment period and start feeling at home. Click here to read more!

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