By Emily Connors, Community Builder
Back in 1997, armed with fresh enthusiasm and a college degree, I embarked on my healthcare career. Little did I know that my journey would lead me to a profound realization about the impact of relationships. In those early days, I believed I had it all figured out, but it was an encounter with The Eden Alternative in 1999 that reshaped my perspective entirely. This approach not only changed the way I shaped my role as a recreation therapist but also revolutionized my understanding of the significance of relationships in both resident care and leadership.
Discovering The Eden Alternative
As a recreation therapist, I started my career by dutifully offering various activities to the residents of a nursing home. I documented, led groups, and engaged in one-on-one sessions. While many residents found enjoyment and stimulation through these activities, I couldn't shake off the feeling that something was missing. Loneliness, helplessness, and boredom persisted among residents, despite my best efforts.
Enter The Eden Alternative—a concept centered around resident-directed care and creating a home. This philosophy addressed the very feelings I struggled to alleviate. Suddenly, I realized that my conventional approach, while effective for some, was not meeting the unique needs of all residents. The Eden Alternative urged me to view my role differently and challenged me to tailor my approach to individual residents' desires, interests, and needs.
With newfound vigor, I embarked on a journey of personalization and connection. I dove into understanding each resident's preferences, hobbies, and dreams. The impact was remarkable. I recall a 94-year-old lady who rekindled her love for painting after a hiatus of five decades. She even started teaching watercolor classes, becoming an inspiration to her peers. Then there was a 40-year-old man with an interest in race car driving, who had lost upper body mobility due to a brain injury. By recognizing his unquenchable thirst for racing, I adapted a video game controller and guided him toward rekindling his passion.
These instances, among many others, not only enriched the residents' lives but also left an indelible mark on my own journey. The Eden Alternative had unlocked a powerful truth: relationships were the bridge between fulfilling care and mere provision.
A Shift to Leadership
In 2019, I returned to the same nursing home, this time in a leadership role. As fate would have it, the organization assigned me the role of "Eden Champion." This meant that I would champion the very philosophy that had reshaped my approach two decades earlier. However, this time, The Eden Alternative took on a different hue—a lesson in leadership through relationships.
Just as relationships were pivotal in enhancing resident care, they played an equally crucial role in leading a team. I realized that applying a uniform approach to managing my team was akin to providing a one-size-fits-all calendar of activities to residents—it met some needs but missed the mark for many. Just as I had tailored activities to residents' individualities, I needed to tailor my leadership approach to my team members.
Understanding the unique motivations, communication styles, and needs of each team member became my new focal point. This journey of connection and understanding resulted in a more satisfied and motivated team. The lesson was clear: relationships were not just about forming connections, but about nurturing and cultivating them.
The Eden Alternative, with its resident-directed care approach, had shown me the gaps in my knowledge when I first stepped into the healthcare arena. Relationships were revealed as the pivotal key to unlocking a life worth living—for both residents and team members alike.
In reflecting on this transformative journey, I'm reminded that growth is an ongoing process. The power of relationships is not just a one-time lesson; it's a continuous exploration that holds the potential to reshape our approaches, beliefs, and impact. As we connect, understand, and cultivate relationships, we inch closer to the ideal of making a genuine and lasting difference in the lives we touch.
Emily Connors joined The Eden Alternative as a Community Builder in July 2023. Eden Community Builders are seasoned culture change experts, Eden Educators, and eMPOWER Consultants who can work with your team to further your progress toward person-directed care, empowered teams, and well-being for all.
To work with an eMPOWER Consultant, fill out and submit the form at the bottom of the eMPOWER Consulting page.