Shirley Cagle, a 90-year-old resident of Milestone Senior Living in Faribault, Minn., is a longtime, die-hard Minnesota Twins fan. At Milestone, which is a Jaybird Senior Living community, residents and staff know when the Twins are playing because Cagle hikes the volume on her television to make sure she can hear the broadcast.
Cagle has struggled with health issues and the isolation that has been common for many seniors during the COVID-19 pandemic. Watching the Twins games helped. But even with her steadfast support of the Twins, she had never attended a game in person.
One day in May, Cagle left Milestone for what she thought was a routine visit to her foot doctor. Instead, she was surprised with a trip to Target Field in Minneapolis to see the Twins play the Texas Rangers.
It was a dream come true. In fact, the game was arranged through Jaybird’s Dare to Dream program, which aims to fulfill the dreams of residents with special events and activities tied to their lives and passions.
Cagle watched the game alongside her daughter, granddaughter, and Anita Kalal, her caregiver at Milestone.
“The smile didn’t come off her face,” Kalal told the Faribault Daily News, which covered the trip.
Decade of dreams
The Dare to Dream program has been a part of Jaybird Senior Living’s mission for at least a decade, says Dani Vance, director of sales and marketing for Jaybird. She estimates Jaybird has made more than 1,200 dreams come true during that time.
A key to the program’s success is its consistency, helping it become ingrained in each community. Jaybird makes a dream come true for one resident in each of its 65 assisted living and memory care communities every month.
Vance says the program is part of Jaybird’s efforts to build a family atmosphere at its communities and to connect with residents on a personal level. Dare to Dream aligns with Jaybird’s goal to be “red carpet ready” for residents, striving “to roll out the red carpet daily to anyone and everyone who lives, works, or visits our communities. Dare to Dream really is an extension of that for us,” she says.
Starts at move-in
Part of the foundation for Dare to Dream is built when a resident joins a community. Jaybird asks the resident, family members, and friends to answer questions and provide a basic life story, including interests, likes and dislikes, favorite moments and memories, and past associations.
“We know when someone moves into senior living that it’s a big decision,” Vance says. “It’s a milestone in their lives. And it’s really important to us that the residents themselves and their family and friends understand that when you’re making this move, making this huge decision, your life is going to continue and even get better, and you can still have fun and your dreams can still come true.”
Vance says Jaybird then continues to work to get to know residents on that “intimate, personal level.” She says often it is direct care team members who come back to the rest of the team with information that leads to a Dare to Dream opportunity. For instance, Kalal nominated Cagle to be a Dare to Dream recipient.
Information from frontline team members typically sparks a conversation and brainstorming among team members as they determine the best way to meet that resident’s dream.
“It just takes off from there,” Vance says. “I think it’s really special that it’s not necessarily the director or the marketing director saying, ‘Hey, we should do this.’ “The front-line staff are building that close relationship that usually brings the idea forward so that we can make that dream come true.”
Vance says team members are motivated to create the best possible experiences for residents through the program. The experience is “fun and heartwarming” for staff, she says, and makes everyone feel good at the end of their shift.
In addition, the response from the residents and their family and friends helps fuel community team members in their drive to keep producing special moments.
“[Team members] thrive off of that,” Vance says. “They’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, if we were able to make this type of impact for one person, then let’s keep going. What else can we do?’ Because it’s fun. And it’s why we do what we do.’”
Family members also often play a crucial role, helping to identify and plan meaningful moments. Cagle’s daughter, Regina Wilson, told the Faribault Daily News, “We had been trying so long to get her [to a ballgame.]”
“We want to find a way to say yes,” Vance says.
Vance says Dare to Dream activities bring joy to family members and help give them peace of mind.
“It means a lot to them to see this dream being made true—they see the smile on their loved one’s face, and they know how much it means to them,” Vance says. “Sometimes, I wonder if the family’s reaction or the resident’s interaction is more powerful.”
Residents join in surprise
Vance says fellow residents also are critical to identifying and creating meaningful Dare to Dream events.
“Sometimes the residents themselves will come up with different ideas for their friends,” Vance says. “A lot of the other residents are involved, too, especially if it’s something that we’re doing at the community there and they get to be a part of it.
“For instance, we had a Dare to Dream at Arcadian Cove in Richmond, Kentucky. A resident there loved horses, and she hadn’t been able to pet a horse in years. She couldn’t leave the community, but we found a way to bring a horse to the community there so that she and the rest of the residents got to enjoy that experience together. It brought joy all around.”
Vance says partnerships with community businesses and organizations often are key to Dare to Dream events.
“It’s all about networking and partnerships,” Vance says. “A lot of times we’ll just throw something out there on Facebook or contact different community members, and the next thing we know we have a whole list of people that are willing to help us out.”
Vance says the outside community appreciates the opportunity to contribute and provide a memorable experience for a senior.
“They love being a part of something like this,” she says. “We are always looking to network with different individuals or companies or organizations that maybe are looking to make a resident’s dream come true.”
A day of dreams
During Cagle’s trip to the ballgame, she received a baseball cap, a Twins’ aviator hat, a certificate recognizing her first game at Target Field, and a baseball autographed by Twins’ legend Tony Oliva. After a man retrieved a nearby foul ball during the game, he presented it to Cagle. The Twins even put Cagle on the Jumbotron to applause from the crowd, and a local news station ran a feature on Cagle’s visit during its broadcast that night.
Wilson told the Faribault Daily News the trip to the game gave her mother, who has faced depression and multiple hospitalizations during the pandemic, an obvious boost. “It was just something, her whole demeanor that day,” she says. “It’s very difficult to explain.”
The result was a meaningful memory that will endure for both Cagle and her family.
HELPING A MULTI-COMMUNITY PROGRAM SUCCEED
A resident program that all communities participate in takes some planning and organization. Here are some tips from providers.
- Have a consistent schedule and policies that involve each community—not too much pressure on any one community.
- Start from “hello”: Start finding out about a resident and what they enjoy from the first day, or before.
- Get the whole team involved. Often, direct caregivers will have the best ideas about what would truly delight a resident.
- Look to the larger community or neighborhood. People like to help and contribute to the “dreams.”
- Spread the word: Jaybird features a “dream” resident in each of its newsletters. If it’s appropriate, let local media know, post on social media. In materials you can control, such as newsletters and social media, try to give thanks and credit to everyone working at the community. Recognition is one of the strongest engagement boosters you can get.