By Harry Glazer
What does it take to succeed as a one-person show, in an adult day program that travels to senior housing developments in four local communities each week?
Judging by the experience of Laurie Peters, program manager of the Parker’s Adult Day at Home Program, it takes a very outgoing personality with a lot of creativity, well-honed cooking skills, a whole bunch of energy, a genuine love of people, and a network of exceptional coworkers with diverse talents.
Laurie has been running the Parker Adult Day at Home program for two and a half years now and it attracts an audience of 15-27 participants each, at four different senior residences. After a day of preparation each Monday, Laurie brings the Adult Day at Home program to the Wilentz residence in Somerset on Tuesdays, Stirling Village in Piscataway on Wednesdays, the North Brunswick Senior Housing Center on Thursdays, and Hidden Brook in Somerset on Fridays.
At each residence, Laurie arrives by 9:30 am and sets up for the day’s activities. She then single-handedly conducts a full four hours of diverse activities. Laurie is a whirlwind of action during those four hours. Observed on a day before Thanksgiving, Laurie engaged the nearly two dozen Elders present with word puzzles, riddles, a humorous poem, an inspirational quote from Oprah Winfrey, a recollection of past program attendees who moved to other residences, a discussion of people’s favorite holiday dishes, a seasonal quiz, a humorous video of pets at a Thanksgiving dinner, and more. Afterwards she served pumpkin-flavored drinks of her own creation and had everyone participate in a stretching, stepping, and deep breathing exercise.
And all this took place before lunch – a healthy balanced meal that Parker provides at the significantly subsidized price of $3 per person.
Inspired by the Eden Alternative philosophy, Laurie makes a point of involving the participants in all aspects of the daily programs. She enlists volunteers to hand out papers, set tables, plate and serve lunch, and assist other participants with cognitive or visual limitations. From what Laurie’s observed, her volunteers greatly value their roles as helpers because it gives each of them a purpose, a role in the day’s activities, and a sense of satisfaction.
Laurie finishes each day’s program around 2:00 pm, consulting afterwards with social workers and other staff in the building, and then makes visits around the residence to encourage others to attend the program.
Laurie brings a varied set of skills and experiences to her job, all of which help her connect with the Elders. She worked for a few decades as a professional chef in different setting – restaurants, hotels, catering companies, and as the operator of her own ‘Dream Chef’ franchise. All these roles refined her sense of customer service and, no doubt, heightened her people skills.
She received her Activities Director Certification from the National Council of Certified Activities Professionals in 2013. She also went back to school, after starting her work in Adult Day at Home, and got a degree in cosmetology in June of 2015, because she saw how certain women were reluctant to participant in the program if they couldn’t have their hair done first.
Laurie draws on many members of the Adult Day Social and Medical Programs for inspiration, as well as an online community and resource for activity professionals. She credits, in particular, Carissa Fish and Lori Morell for contributing their time and ideas, by visiting the Adult Day at Home program and sharing their areas of expertise. She is indebted to Parker’s IT department for providing the technological capability in the community room of each of the four residences to go online and use an iPad. She is also indebted to the Adult Day Program director, Natalie Macaro, for giving her the independence and support to build the program and use her creativity to the fullest potential.
Laurie treasures many moments in her work as deeply meaningful, but one stands out clearly. A woman who attends one of the programs suffers from depression and has a hard time getting out to other programs in the residence. But she makes a point of making it to the Adult Day program, because she enjoys the way Laurie involves everyone in the different activities. She’s said that she sees Laurie as “a blessing from God.”
Looking ahead for the Adult Day at Home program, Laurie hopes to offer IT support services to participants, nurse medicine checks, trips to Parker’s theater in Highland Park to view movies, and an ambassador program to visit current participants who can’t attend a day’s program.
Parker commends Laurie on developing Adult Day at Home into the remarkable success it is, a major feature of our engagement in the local community and a regular example of some of our very best programming.