Interview With Life Enrichment Director Valana Richards


At Prestige Senior Living, residents enjoy creative, varied activity calendars that help bring joy and camaraderie to our communities.

From fashion shows to live music to Wii bowling, there’s always something fun happening for residents to enjoy; it’s why we like to say we’re Not Your Grandma’s Nursing Home.

Making that fun happen at each community is the Life Enrichment Director (LED). They plan and execute the monthly activities, combining old favorites with exciting new ideas.

In this blog we’re interviewing Valana Richards, the LED at Prestige Senior Living Orchard Heights about her approach to creating events, managing the different abilities and interests of residents, and more. She came to Prestige a year and a half ago, and has 30 years working in service to others.

What do you enjoy about working with older adults?

Valana Richards: “Just their enthusiasm for so many things and talking to them about their life stories. So many of them have lived such interesting lives… I remember years ago I had a resident that was just getting ready to turn 100, and he was born in 1888, so he was 12 at the turn of the century, and all the things that he lived through in his whole life with radio and cars and TV and just everything.”

What goes into creating the monthly activity calendars?

“Well, we have our staples that go on every calendar regardless, like Bingo or happy hour, and exercise always goes on. And then as far as the other activities, I try to get a lot of input from the residents about what they would like to do, and then I usually try at least one or two ideas that I think maybe they like, but maybe are not sure about. We try them, and if they go over well, then I’ll repeat them for another month or so. And I try to keep switching activities in and out so that we have a good variety of things and people don’t get too tired of doing one thing. And then we also have our outings. There’s a lot of planning that goes into it and trying to figure out the best schedule and the best activities for people.”

How do you balance incorporating new ideas that you’re interested in while also sticking with some of those favorites and making sure that you’re finding that balance?

“Well, if we’re trying a new activity, one of the first things I try to think about before I introduce it, like with crafting projects, is how intricate or detailed is it? Because a lot of the residents here, they don’t always have the best eyesight or fine motor skills in their hands due to arthritis. And so I always look at, is this going to be something they’re going to be able to do without a whole lot of instruction or somebody to help him along every step of the way? Because I don’t want them to be frustrated at a new skill, I want them to be able to enjoy it. And if it’s too difficult, then they’re not going to enjoy it. So those are some of the things I think about before I start something new.

We did rock tumbling here last year, which went really well, but we ended up with a lot of pretty polished rocks that I was trying to think of a way to use them. And we ended up making jewelry, which for some of them was pretty successful. Some of them had a harder time trying to manipulate the wire and needed more assistance. But overall, I think it went pretty well and they were pretty amazed that their results that they got out of them.”

What are some of the favorites that residents continue to enjoy?

“We do poker every Tuesday at 1 p.m., and nobody knew how to play Texas Hold ‘em before I started. So we taught quite a few people how to play, enough now that we’ll probably be doing a poker tournament here coming up this summer. We usually have more players than I even have room at the table for. I think they would have a fit if I dropped poker off the schedule. And then Wii bowling is getting to be bigger and bigger. I’ve had to go from one day a week to two days a week now just so it to accommodate all the people that want to play.”

In your time at Orchard Heights, has there been a resident who maybe at first when they moved in were reluctant to participate and then really grew into the community and became really active?

“Oh, definitely. We have a lady now that when she first came in, she wouldn’t even come out for meals or anything. Slowly but surely we got her more and more involved. Part of the problem is that she’s a little bit hard of hearing, and she’s also what you would consider legally blind. And so, especially moving into a strange place, moving around was difficult for her, and she just has kind of a shy personality anyway. But we got her out to where she’s participating now in almost all the activities, goes to every meal, has become really almost one of our goodwill ambassadors here in the building as far as meeting new people coming in. She’s really blossomed to where she’s become one of my number one helpers here.”

Lastly, what’s the best part of your job?

“Just working with people. I enjoy working with people so much, talking to them and listening to their jokes or their sense of humor or their viewpoint on different things. I can’t even count how many times over the years that listening to their point of view has made me reconsider mine because they gave me an added dimension to the information I had. The people that we have living here are amazing. When you think about all the things in their lives, major things that they’ve lived through and came through successfully. Just working with the people is what I really enjoy.”

For more about life enrichment at Prestige, contact the community nearest you.