Bringing residents and families together through the Warmth of Human Connection

Hillary Alzner at Bradford Valley Care CommunityHillary’s greatest joy is helping residents and their families connect, especially now.

“Almost every time I have a family contribute and work on a project with me, the resident winds up crying, because they know their family still loves them,” said Hillary Alzner, Recreation Therapy Assistant at Bradford Valley Care Community in Bradford. “The smallest things can make a huge difference.”

Some of the things Hillary has done in the past include connecting with families to help them pick gifts for their loved one, who may love puzzles, but can no longer see the small pieces easily. Together, they’ll come up with solutions to help residents continue to enjoy the things they’ve always loved.

“I strive to give residents a sense of belonging. That they’re at home and loved, not in a facility,” Hillary said. “This is their home.”

Hillary always knew she wanted to be in healthcare. In high school, she planned on becoming a nurse, and enrolled in the closest co-op her school had to that goal. She began working as a student at Cedarvale Lodge Retirement and Care Community in Keswick, ON. There, she was mentored by Diane, the head of the recreation department at the time.

“She showed me how recreation can impact the lives of seniors,” Hillary said. “It can make a greater impact than you’d think.”

In 2016, Hillary earned her Recreation and Leisure Services Advanced Diploma. During the program, she once again worked as a student at Cedarvale Lodge. In 2017, she began working at Bradford Valley.

She’s well known for dressing up in 1950s fashions, a style that she says makes her feel comfortable and connects residents with their past, allowing them to reminisce.

“There are so many memories… it’s hard to pick a favourite,” Hillary said. Her favourite program; however, was easy.

“The knitting group. Being able to sit and chat and have them show me how to do things — where usually I am the one showing them how to do things… it’s a good change and it proves to them that they can still teach people and give back as they have their whole lives.”

She said she loves working with seniors because she loves to hear their stories. “They have stories, and they love to share their stories. I just want to know more,” Hillary said. “My job is different every day. You know each person, but every day is different.”

Recently, a family was so moved by the work Hillary does each day that they wrote a 500-word letter to recognize the difference they felt she made in their father’s life.

When asked how she felt about the letter, Hillary said, “It gave me a sense of accomplishment on the difference I am able to make in residents’ lives and their families’ lives. I still see my mentor from time to time, so it was a huge deal to be able to show the letter to her.”

Read the inspirational letter below, and hear the difference Hillary makes each day in the words of a family member:

Good afternoon,

On behalf of my family, I wanted to take a moment and tell you about our experience with one of your very special team members — Hillary Alzner at Bradford Valley Care Community. Last August, my father was admitted to Bradford under very difficult circumstances. However, upon his arrival, it was obvious to us that our poor dad was finally in an exceptional facility where he would be comfortable and well-cared for.

I am the eldest of [my father’s] three daughters, and this past year has been both challenging and heartbreaking due to the fact that my one sister and I live in Ohio and have been unable to cross the border into Canada to see our parents. I truly believe that the only reason we were able to survive such a difficult time was due to the kindness and support of Hillary. An exceptional young lady, Hillary went above and beyond to provide our dad with personal, compassionate care. She went out of her way to arrange Zooms [virtual face-to-face video calls] for us; she kept us updated on our dad’s activities; she shared heart-warming stories, and provide us all with the emotional support that we needed. Over Zoom, we could always tell when Hillary walked into our dad’s room. His eyes would light up and he would turn his head to follow her. Aware that our dad was hearing impaired, Hillary always approached him gently, where he could see her. More importantly, she always touched him in a gentle, loving way before engaging in any kind of a conversation with him. Hillary has the most beautiful aurora, and our dad could sense this. She would patiently engage with us as we shared personal stories with her about [dad] so she could understand who he was before he became sick. Her attentive and friendly nature gave us the strength to keep going and do whatever we could to help our dad.

Three weeks ago, when my sister and I were finally allowed into Canada to say goodbye to our father, Hillary was there once again for our family. As we sat vigil at my dad’s bedside, Hillary would check in, talk to our unconscious father and gently rub his feet. I cannot begin to tell you how comforting it was to finally meet this extraordinary woman in person and have her by our side. Hillary even made a point of stopping by after she heard that our dad had passed. We were cleaning up his room and she selflessly took the time to share stories with us about our dad’s daily activities at Bradford.

Hillary made a difference in our dad’s life. The personal and attentive care she provided all five of us will forever be etched into our hearts. My husband is a physician and was also touched by Hillary’s kindness and support. We want to thank you for having such a special person on your recreation team. We are forever grateful for Hillary’s compassionate and professional care, she was a great gift to our family.

With my warmest appreciation,

Patti W.

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