More than four decades ago, Doreen Lewis was a fearless woman on a dangerous mission. At least that’s what the Ottawa Citizen’s headline writers had to say, back in 1976, about the “farmer’s wife” and her attempt to “break the male grip” on municipal politics and “smash” her way in.
She may not have won the election, but she taught her family how to take a stand. “Mom was tired of all those old boys making back-room deals,” say her children – Polly, Jane, Danny and Kelly – of their mother’s brave bid for a seat at the council table in North Crosby Township near Westport.
Today as a resident of Providence Manor, Doreen Lewis’ mission is very different but no less inspirational or instructional to her family. “When we come to visit, we see the lessons Mom is teaching us, and the staff about what it means to have joy and happiness and be able to laugh and be positive.”
Diagnosed with dementia in 2011, Doreen Lewis moved to her new home in Providence Manor in September 2014. The once avid public speaker is still very much in command of her legendary sense of humour. “Mom is funny” her children say and she has used her “smarty-pants” wit to establish lasting bonds with the staff. The Recreation and Life Enrichment Team, in particular, understand her and help her make the best of every day.
Providence Manor has become a centre of excellence for life enrichment, offering the home’s 243 residents a recreational care environment that supports whole-person wellbeing, and includes programs and activities that are among the most creative and resident-centred that can be found in long-term care today.
Danielle Preston, Coordinator Recreation and Volunteer Services, says the key to her “small but mighty” team’s success is their focus on building meaningful relationships. “It is the relationship that motivates the resident to overcome their reluctance, helping them get the most out of each day.”
Kelsey Melrose, one of the team’s four full-time Recreationists, has become part of Doreen’s extended family and agrees that trust is critical.” The more residents trust us, the more likely they are to say, “I know you. You care about me. I’ll try.”
Danielle acknowledges that recreational programs in long-term care can get “stuck in old habits.” Her team avoids this pitfall through a relentless commitment to variety, creativity and experimentation. “At our monthly meetings, we challenge everyone to come with one new idea. That’s how we keep things fresh.”
Whether they are planning balloon badminton, evening dancing, or a casual round of Mimosa Mondays, with non-alcoholic champagne, they work to tailor programs to meet the ever-changing needs of the residents. “One month baking might be a huge success, if people are able to measure the ingredients,” says Danielle. “But then a couple of months down the line, as a resident’s diagnosis progresses, we might have a baking program where they are just placing pre-made cookies on a baking sheet. Both are just as meaningful.”
When their mother first moved to Providence Manor, Doreens’s children thought “it was the end of the world.” Today, they are grateful for how much their mother is loved on a daily basis. “We can see it, and she feels it, and we know that has helped her to flourish here.”
This article originally appeared in the Kingston University Foundation Summer Report in June 2019.