Volunteers make retirement-community newcomers feel at home

Imagine that you are 90 years old, and you are about to enter your new home, at the senior retirement community Trinity Lodge. The sliding glass doors open and a wave of warm air caresses your cheeks. Six pairs of eyes flicker in your direction.

It’s 4:30 p.m. and a group of seniors are patiently waiting their turn to enter the dining room. The corridors seem to stretch in to an endless maze, but finally you reach the correct door, stick the black key in the hole, and walk in to your new room.

“People cry and tell me why they don’t want to move in, but they understand that they should.”
— Val Bracey, marketing manager at Trinity Lodge

After settling in a bit, you hear a knock at the door and turn the silver handle to see Elizabeth Hyde’s smiling face.

Hyde, a resident at Trinity Lodge, is a volunteer along with seven other seniors, for the community’s Welcome Wagon program. She said that when new residents move in they are visited by one of the volun- teers with a bag of goodies, often followed by a long conversation about life.

“Some just want the bag actually, and like for me to be there while they open it,” she added. “And then they’re happy.”

Contents of the Welcome Wagon bag include a toothbrush, a glass, hand cream, hand sanitizer, soap, tissues, a free haircut, a free guest dinner and a purse full of 10 dimes for bingo.

A support system

Jenelle Fenty, life enrichment manager at Trinity Lodge said the Welcome Wagon Elizabeth Hyde, resident and volunteer for Trinity Lodge’s Welcome Wagon program provides support for new residents.
Photo by: Jenica Foster
program provides companionship to new residents with someone who really knows what the move-in experience feels like.

“It’s not a staff member,” Fenty added. “It is a fellow resident who can understand what they have been through and offers support to them.”

Fenty said change can be scary for people of any age, but seniors often find moving from the family home disorienting. Some seniors, she said, may have lived in the same house for the last 50 years and find themselves at Trinity Lodge because their spouse has passed away or they have greater health needs.

“That first off is a major change in their life,” she said. “And then they have to move to somewhere completely new where they wake up and the sun shining in their room is totally different from how it has (shone) in the last few years of their life.”

To help ease any fears of moving into a retirement community, Val Bracey, mar- keting manager at Trinity Lodge, is the first to help.

Bracey listens to new residents, helping them to address their fears.

“People cry and tell me why they don’t want to move in, but they understand that they should.”

Hyde remembers being quite nervous when she first moved in, especially having moved from Vancouver to be closer to her family in Calgary. The Welcome Wagon program wasn’t implemented until about three months after Hyde moved in, but she said everyone was very helpful if ever she got lost in the corridors.

Since then, Hyde said she has become accustomed to life at Trinity Lodge and is quite happy. In the five minute walk to the dining room, Hyde was greeted with, “Hi, friend,” from smiling faces by other seniors in the halls.

New friends

After living at Trinity Lodge for about a year and a half, Hyde said she’s met the funniest people. She said she was late for lunch one day and sat with a 101-year-old lady who was joking with a very large man.

“And he said, ‘If you don’t stop that, I work for Calgary Power and I’m going to shut off your water and your electricity.’ And she said, ‘Well I can’t see or hear anyway so it won’t make any difference,’” Hyde remembered.

“That’s funny when you are 101.”

Bracey said eliminating the fear of not knowing anyone is the benefit of the Welcome Wagon program.

Hyde added that now residents will be able to contact their Welcome Wagon volunteer after their initial meeting with the creation of business cards that detail the volunteers name, phone number and room number.

The ultimate test

The success of the Welcome Wagon program was measured in a questionnaire conducted at a meet and greet last October.

New resident Edna Hunter said: “I have nothing but praise for the thoughtful acceptance of people, of people feeling naturally nervous in a way of living and getting to know people.

“Congratulations in making our transition a blessing.”

 jfoster@cjournal.ca