You could say that Ellyn Fishbach is an expert at staying active through the golden years.
For one, she waited until after retirement to begin a whole new career — as an activities director at Colonial Assisted Living in Ft. Lauderdale.
Secondly, Ellyn makes it her job to love the parties, the games, and the people she strives to keep active every day.
“As an activities director, you have to like doing these things or you won’t be any good,” Ellyn said. “They can’t look at the activities director as just another executive in the building.”
And of course, it helps that she loves what she does.
“It makes me happy to see the residents happy,” she said.
Here’s what Ellyn shared about staying active.
Ellyn’s first secret is involving the residents of Colonial Assisted Living in the planning. Even if she thinks she knows what they’ll say, she asks the residents for their opinions and input.
She’ll put anything they want to do on the calendar.
“They’re a lively bunch,” Ellyn said. “They love to dance. They love karaoke. They love their bingo. They’re just really engaged and want to be involved in everything we do.”
Recently, one of the favorite activities is a monthly “Trip Around the World,” where the residents experience and celebrate a new country. Ellyn goes all out with decorations. Residents get little themed gifts. They eat traditional foods. They play music from that country.
This month, the country is Israel. In November, they will “travel” to Thailand to celebrate the Monkey Festival.
Keeping the schedule full… and exciting
When they’re not experiencing a new culture, residents stay busy with steady favorites like bingo, arts and crafts, Bible studies, games, trips to the store and exercise classes.
They know that every second Tuesday, their favorite DJ will play ‘50s music for a birthday celebration. Every other month, there’s a late night party. Heart2Heart also holds special events at the center.
But Ellyn would never be content with a predictable activity schedule.
So at least once a week, she plans something big. Earlier this month, they hosted a breast cancer awareness walk. Other weeks, it was a cooking demonstration.
On Oct. 24, they’re going all out for a Halloween party. Residents will make costumes and masks. There will be a haunted house.
And decorations! There are always decorations.
To help her plan the holiday events and boost excitement, Ellyn has recruited residents for a holiday committee.
“It’s really about getting their buy-in and feeling part of the make-up,” Ellyn said. “It’s about the residents. That’s the key to having a successful activities department: Making them feel comfortable.”
Making everyone feel included
Whenever a new resident moves into Colonial Assisted Living, Ellyn pairs them up with one of the active residents to ease that transition and help the new person feel welcome and involved.
Similarly, she always makes sure that every resident knows they are invited to any and all activities. Even if they’re not a “joiner,” she wants them to know that someone thought of them.
The residents quickly learn that it doesn’t matter what their ability level is — they can always participate.
“We might have someone who can’t hear, so we shout. If someone can’t use their hands for arts and crafts, we help them,” Ellyn said.
If a resident can’t see well, she will sit next to them or get someone else who can help.
“There’s no limitation,” Ellyn said. “Someone might say, ‘Oh, I can’t do that,” and we say ‘Oh, yes you can! We’ll help you.’”
The goal is to keep residents excited to experience each day.
“You have to have a reason to get up in the morning,” Ellyn said. “It’s important to stay active to stay healthy, mentally and physically.”
To help seniors stay active, volunteer with Heart2Heart to help the activities director at a care center in your community.