Category: Miscellaneous

The power of community

I recently heard someone speak about the importance of community. I was intrigued by an unusual experience he cited, called the Roseto effect.

According to UnimedLiving.com, “In 1964 a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association examined a population of recent Italian immigrants in Roseto, a small town in the state of Pennsylvania. The study was instigated because the town doctor was completely baffled by the Rosetans’ near immunity to heart disease. He reported his observations” and an extensive study was conducted, comparing health statistics in the community to those of neighboring towns.

In fact, from 1954 to 1961, Roseto had nearly no heart attacks within the population of men 55 to 64, normally a high-risk group, and men older than 65 had a death rate of 1%, while nationally the average was 2%, despite other behaviors (such as smoking) considered unhealthy and sometimes-hazardous working conditions.

The local physician attributed the lower heart-disease rate to lower stress. Researchers suggested “the quality of family relationships and the social milieu may be pertinent to the occurrence of or protection against death from myocardial infarction.” (The Huffington Post also writes about it here in more detail.)

Interestingly, as social structures changed and the community grew less tight-knit, heart-disease rates rose to be comparable to the rest of the country.

There are certainly no guarantees that living in a close-knit community will protect you against heart disease but, at least for me, the Roseto effect makes sense.

When we live in healthy communities, assisting one another and enjoying life together, it just makes sense that stress levels are lower. With stress reportedly one factor in heart disease, it seems logical to associate life in close community with others to taking at least one step closer to physical, emotional and spiritual health.

Creating that type of community lies at the heart of what senior living services providers such as Diakon do.

The very design of our senior living communities, the amenities we offer and the events we craft are all designed to engender a sense of community not only among our residents but also between residents and staff members and residents and the general community.

Again, no one can claim creating such community will ensure lowered heart concerns or even decreased stress levels, but it certainly cannot hurt. And when you speak with our residents, many mention the newfound sense of community they have found with us.

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

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Social media: Being Sir Galahad and not Daenerys Targaryen

The emails come in daily: How to use social media to promote your organization or business.

Of course, the interesting thing is that the companies selling their social media-focused services are using email (direct-to-you communication) to promote their products.

To be fair, they are probably promoting them as well via social media but their best line of marketing, at least for me, is to direct their pitch to my email inbox.

No question, though. Social media is a wonderful thing. (The grammarian in me wants to write “social media are wonderful things” … but that phrasing just sounds strange.)

Social media have aided democratization in various parts of the world and given voice literally to everyone willing or motivated to use it.

Diakon’s various social-media channels—we have many, many Facebook pages, for example, because the best social media are local—allow us to reach people directly and in ways that most interest them.

And there’s quite the variety: people discussing the care they received at a Diakon senior living community … others inquiring of Diakon Youth Services’ wilderness greenhouse about the availability of a particular native plant … and still others wishing the best for a youth in need of foster care or adoption.

Sometimes, the discussions are heart-warming.

I have my own Facebook account, of course. I like to post witty observations and occasionally, as over the Memorial Day weekend, an update on activities: my son and I worked three longs days doing major outside projects at his and my house.

About two years ago, though, I eschewed commenting on or posting anything political. I’ve broken that rule once or twice but overall stuck with it.

This topic is one that has been debated by countless others so I most likely am not adding anything new but the tone of some political posts—from both “sides”—makes me occasionally question the long-term impact of social media.

Now I’m no Chicken Little “the-sky-is-falling” person and recognize that most people can differentiate a personal rant from true news.

What occasionally gives me pause, though, is that some people reportedly get most of their news or commentary on politics and other important topics via social media or engage in debates that quickly deteriorate into anger. And that often serves no useful purpose.

A few years back I did get into a heated political discussion on Facebook with another Diakon staff member. Fortunately, we were smart enough to stop, pull back and recognize that our friendship is more important than engaging in such a debate in this particular forum.

And that was one more plank in my decision to pull back from such discussions.

At the same time, I continue to recognize the engagement value of social media, the wonderful connections organizations make with their publics via social media, the reconnections we personally can develop with people we haven’t seen in years and, yes, even the ability of social media to inform.
I just believe we need to be as smart—and as civil—as possible in how we use it.

By William Swanger, MA, APR
Senior Vice President
Corporate Communications & Public Relations

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Mapping out a career path one step at a time

My friends were receiving college acceptance letters and comparing SAT scores, but I was barely keeping my head above water my final months of high school. I had loosely planned on attending college, but at the start of my senior year in high school, my parents suddenly divorced.

My world was turned upside down.

And if I had received any guidance about my future, I truly don’t remember it. My family shifted into survival mode and I had no idea how to sign up for SATs and absolutely no motivation to keep up my grades. College wasn’t even on my radar.

I’m not bitter about it; however, it was not the picture-perfect plan I had envisioned in my younger teen years and watching my friends head off to college that fall stung a bit.

Fast forward a few years to my early 20s: While working multiple jobs, I attended a community college part-time and earned my associate’s degree. Then, at the age of 40, I returned to college to earn my bachelor’s degree. I graduated five years ago with a BA in Communications and I would never have been able to do it without the support of my family, friends and work colleagues.

My next major career goal is to earn my accreditation in public relations, signified by the initials APR. Which brings me to the point of this post: There is no one-size-fits-all cookie cutter approach when it comes to a career path.

I think it’s important to understand this as we find ourselves in high school and college graduation season. Young people may be feeling lots of pressure as they transition and we need to encourage they see beyond whatever limitations they face, self-imposed or otherwise.

I joined Diakon nearly 11 years ago as a part-time administrative assistant. I had the opportunity to be mentored in public relations and communications by my supervisor and take advantage of Diakon’s Tuition Assistance Program, or TAP, which is offered to staff members. It helped to offset some of the costs of college I never would have been able to afford, especially while having a family to take care of!

I think it’s important for businesses and organizations to invest in their employees. One of those ways is to offer tuition assistance, as well as opportunities to grow. Not only have I had the opportunity to use TAP funds, but I also am currently enrolled in a program called Leadership Diakon.

Leadership Diakon presents participants with opportunities to meet fellow team members and participate in meaningful educational offerings. It has been so valuable learning about all aspects of the organization from finance to business development and even how to better understand and work alongside people who have different personality traits.

My advice to those just starting out in their careers is to never settle. There is something to be learned in every position and at every level in the workplace. We just have to be willing and open to learning new things. And college or no college, what you have to offer is extremely valuable, so keep growing and exploring!

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

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The good we do beyond the good we set out to do

Somewhere along the line I came up with the phrase “the good we do beyond the good we set out to do.”

While that almost makes that “secondary good” seem unintentional, it’s not. “Doing good”—that is, having a positive impact on society beyond direct service to people in need—is a special and significant responsibility of nonprofit organizations, particularly in lieu of certain taxes. Doing good beyond what we set out to do through our service programs and senior living communities is something of which we are very proud.

That positive impact is called community benefit.

We began calculating Diakon’s community benefit for the first time six years ago and are now readying our sixth community benefit report, this time for 2018. Typically, Diakon’s community benefit amounts to approximately $20 million.

Community benefit is quite different from annual reporting. We don’t count people served or provide financial summaries of what we spent during the prior year. Rather, we look at such factors as offering free meeting space to community groups, providing mentoring or other support to students in the health care or social services fields, donations of unused medication to help people in need and support groups we offer the public free.

Community benefit also includes the subsidized service we provide, so that we can help many people with limited financial resources.

Part of me dreads this time of year because, based on national guidelines, calculating community benefit can be, well, math-intensive.

In the case of free meeting space, for example, I have to know the cost-per-square-foot-for-maintenance of a Diakon facility, the size of the room in which an outside group held its free meetings and how many hours the group was there during the year!

You get the picture. It’s calculator time.

But another part of me truly enjoys the effort, calculations and all, because doing so underscores the amazing impact we have on society—the good we do beyond the good we set out to do!

You can view our 2018 Community Benefit Report by clicking here.

 By William Swanger, MA, APR
Senior Vice President
Corporate Communications & Public Relations

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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.