Elaine Mabry is the director of activities at Mohawk Homestead, an adult care residence in Mohawk
By Barbara Pierce
If I could no longer live on my own, I’d like to be a resident at Mohawk Homestead in Mohawk.
I could have a manicure after breakfast, play quizzes while I have morning coffee, then enjoy a rousing game of balloon volley to get my exercise for the day. After lunch, I’d share my life story with others, then sing along with my new friends over root beer floats, and Bible study in the evening.
This wealth of diverse activities is the work of Elaine Mabry, director of activities at Mohawk Homestead, an adult care residence in Mohawk. The small Victorian-style adult home has provided care to the elderly as a nonprofit for 121 years. Care and services are provided for both temporary and long-term residents.
As more people enter retirement, there is a growing need for qualified activity directors-recreation therapists to provide the very best in socially, mentally, and physically engaging programs for residents of adult care homes, assisted living, nursing homes, and adult day centers.
Mabry shared her perspective on this career.
Q.: You’ve been director of activities at Mohawk Homestead for five years. What’s best about this career?
A.: I love it! And this is such a wonderful place to work! What I especially love is that I know these families because I grew up here. Knowing that I’m making a difference in their lives is the best thing about this career.
Take for instance the boat ride at the Herkimer Diamond Mines. One of the men had always wanted to go on this boat trip, and he was so happy. He died not long after that trip.
When I can fulfill some adventure a resident has wanted for years, it makes me happy. Many of our residents haven’t seen local sites and I enjoy helping them experience these things.
I’m happiest when our residents are happy; I like making them happy, seeing them laughing and having fun.
Q.: How did you become interested in this career?
A.: I got involved in a roundabout way. I went to school to become a nursing home administrator, and I have a health care management degree. But I found I didn’t like being anybody’s boss. I wanted to do fun stuff.
Before I came to Mohawk Homestead, I worked as an assistant in therapeutic recreation at another facility where I learned a lot that prepared me for this position.
Q.: I’m impressed with the variety of community-based and meaningful group activities you offer, as interesting activities are vital to keep people healthy, happy, and keep their spirits alive. How do you do it?
A.: I rely heavily on community involvement, as I’m the only paid staff. Volunteers bring in their pets for visits, and they lead Bible study, bingo, church services, trips, crafts, and so much more. There is even a fishing pond we can use.
I can’t say enough about how helpful the community is. They are great, so supportive.
We’re always looking for volunteers who can share their passions and interests with us.
Q.: How do you determine activities?
A.: When a new resident moves in, I sit down and talk with them about what their life was like before and what activities they especially enjoyed. Some people are social and enjoy activities with others; others like to stay to themselves and do their own thing. Either is OK.
Each month, I monitor quality assurance. I sample three residents and ask what they like. Some like history, some like shopping, or music, others want to challenge their brain or do competitive activities, or social activities.
Q.: What’s required of you in this job?
A.: I do a monthly calendar of activities (which can be seen online at mohawkhomestead.org/resident-calendar/), I drive the bus and I lead activities.
It’s important to be upbeat, patient, organized, and to be able to think like I was in their shoes.
Q.: Are there many job opportunities in this field? What preparation is needed?
A.: Skilled nursing facilities employ recreation therapists, which requires a four-year degree. Many facilities are hurting and unable to find qualified workers. Utica College offers this degree.
Most recreational therapists work in hospitals or health facilities, but an increasing number are being hired in residential facilities, community mental health centers, adult day care, substance abuse centers, hospice, community centers, and schools.
Q.: What activities are most fun for you?
A.: I like anything where people give me positive feedback. Everyone’s favorite is the group balloon volley. We use noodles to hit the balloons, play music, laugh, have a good time, and get exercise.
Q.: Is there anything else you would like readers to know?
A.: I welcome and am always looking for volunteers to help with crafts, bingo, and trips.
If you have a passion or a talent to do something, like crotchet, share your pet, or give a talk, we’d love for you to share. See the application on our website.
Contact Mohawk Homestead at 315-866-1841 or see www.mohawkhomestead.org for more information.