Caring for Residents Like Family

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True North Winner

Shelly Withrow

 When Shelly Withrow talks about her family, those who know her well have to spend a moment determining if she’s discussing her children or her SKLD Muskegon residents. She brings passion, love and commitment to her job as activities assistant, and it shows. Recently, when residents selected one recipient among the SKLD Muskegon staff to receive the “True North Award” of the year, they chose Shelly. 

Shelly was shocked when she heard she was chosen and delighted when she discovered her prize was to choose a charity of her choice to receive $500. In an instant she chose Wings of Mercy, a non-profit that uses volunteer pilots to shuttle patients to hospital visits out of town. Both Shelly and her daughter have benefited from their services over the years. 

Shelly went back to work for personal reasons after years of volunteering for charity. It didn’t take her long to realize that a profession in the helping field was where she belonged. She applied to work with the cooking staff at a senior center for dementia, and instead they saw her resume full of volunteer leadership positions and hired her as activities coordinator. There, she was a one-woman show, filling her residents’ days with activities. She had a hard time heading home at the end of the day, knowing that the patients would be without her until her next shift. It was a feeling that eventually left her exhausted and searching for a more manageable job. 

When Shelly heard about her current position, where she would have more support and regular business hours, she jumped at the chance to join. It’s a job she’s grown to love since day one. Shelly considers her work with “her family” a privilege, and it shows.

“I really don’t think of this as a job, but rather I’m getting paid to love and share their lives daily,” she says. 

Shelly says her own elderly parents remain independent and at home, and Shelly treats the SKLD residents the way she imagines her parents would want to be treated. She coordinates a coffee talk each week and a book club, knowing that these are activities the residents would likely do if they were still living at home. In travel club, they pick a place and Shelly shows a few YouTube clips so that the group can “travel” there and discuss food, sights and music. This exercise leads to reminiscing about past vacations and memories. In Bible club, the residents look forward to visits from Pastor Skip, and they enjoy Music with Martin once a month. “My residents love his music, and I love it too. I dance around and hold my family’s hands and sing with each and every resident. The smiles on their faces can wipe away any problems that I have,” she says.

They watch movies and critique them and keep busy with games and activities that Shelly brings in bundles to work each week. “Anything I can find that keeps their minds busy I will bring,” she says. Mostly, though, the residents like to chat with Shelly. She has a way of speaking to them all like a friend or family member that makes each person feel valued. For Shelly, to care for the residents is to love them, and they feel the same way.