Eskaton – “Dawn of a New Day”

Note: I love discovering great long-term care volunteer programs. Take a few minutes to read how a well-designed and managed program can make a real difference in the lives of both the people living and working at Eskaton!

Picture of Lyndsey Dammann

Lyndsey Dammann, Manager Volunteer Resources


Paul: Finding a great volunteer program makes my day! I’m just thrilled to have this opportunity to be able to talk with you in depth about the Eskaton program. I think a good place to start is just with some introductions. Tell me a little bit about your background, and then what drew you to managing volunteers?

Lyndsey: Well, I just thank you for having me today and to have this opportunity to talk about Eskaton and our wonderful volunteer program. I was actually in the education field for twelve years. I worked with preschool through 6th grade, and my passion was working with children. My best friend actually worked for Eskaton. She’s worked here for 15 years.

I had taken a couple of years off when I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and had to get my health in order. I was able to have some time staying home with my kids, which is wonderful. I’ve always done a lot of volunteer work. And when I had that time period where I wasn’t working, that was all I did.

I was volunteering for everything and anything I could. When this position came about, my friend said, “You would be perfect for this. You have management experience and a lot of volunteer experience. I think that this would just really be right up your alley.”

I was looking to go back to a nonprofit and just had a lot of things that I was looking for in a company that Eskaton had and now coming on board, I’ve just absolutely loved every minute of it. It’s been the perfect transition.

I took care of my grandmother for a couple of years before she passed away. She had lived with me when she had dementia, and so that became something that I was very passionate about as well. I love working with older adults that are living with cognitive change because they show that you can live a very full, wonderful, beautiful life, even when you are with someone living with dementia and cognitive change. And so, it’s been a wonderful transition from education to volunteer management, and I just look forward to continuing with it.

...they show that you can live a very full, wonderful, beautiful life, even when you are with someone living with dementia and cognitive change.

Eskaton - what does it mean?

Paul: That’s great. So just tell me, Eskaton, I was really curious. It means “Dawn of a New Day.” What’s the origins of that? 

Lyndsey: They chose the name because it’s supposed to be just a new way of looking at aging and what services can be provided and how you can age and live well no matter how old you are.

Paul: Before we get into specifics, just overall, what are your responsibilities now? Of course, that’s probably going to be a three hour discussion.

Lyndsey: So I am in charge of onboarding training and managing all the volunteer services for all of the Eskaton communities. We have 31 different communities overall. So I’m responsible for recruiting, onboarding and managing volunteer services.

Paul: Are you the volunteer coordinator for all 31 then?

Lyndsey: Yes. And actually, my title just changed. So now I’m the manager of volunteer resources.

Paul: Okay. So you don’t have staff then?

Lyndsey: The Life Enrichment team would be the closest thing to anyone that I’m overseeing because I’m helping with their volunteer program, whatever their specific needs are, their community and ensuring that those needs are met. I also run our Senior Companion program, which is a great program. We partner with AmeriCorps, and we are able to provide a senior companion for someone who is isolated, doesn’t have transportation, or doesn’t have a lot of family in the area. The senior companion is able to take them to doctor’s appointments, grocery shop and just be a friend. So that’s been wonderful.

Paul: So just to be clear, there’s 31 different communities in Eskaton, and each one has a Life Enrichment person, and they are actually seeing the day to day management of their volunteers?

Lyndsey: Yes.

Paul: So really, your audience is the Life Enrichment people, is that right? I mean, you’re supporting them in their role?

Lyndsey: Yes.

Paul: Are you doing all the recruiting, too?

Lyndsey: Yes, I’m doing all the recruiting, the onboarding and all the training. And then once that is complete and the are volunteers ready to go, then they are sent to the life enrichment director at the community, who is responsible for specific training on what exactly what they’ll be doing, how they sign in out of the community and just any small details of what their service will be.

Richard, woodworker created a free library
Richard, a skilled woodworker created a free library.

Prior to the pandemic...

Paul: Okay. So how many volunteers total?

Lyndsey:  Typically, we had over 2000 volunteers that were serving prior to the pandemic. Since the pandemic, things are different. But I can give you just based on our check-ins over the past year. So currently we’ve had 429 volunteers that have been checking in and it’s really wonderful. And considering the lockdowns and everything, it’s a pretty good number.

Paul: Everybody’s in the same boat. The fact that you still have 429, I think some people would salivate over that. Some have lost them all. And it’s really a shame. As far as the 429 then are they making in-person visits? 

Lyndsey: Yes, those are the in-person visits. And we also have the virtual opportunities which at this point have gone downhill a lot because of resident interest. They’re kind of burnt out on Zoom. We are still offering virtual opportunities with “Kids Connection.” 

We’re getting that going again and hoping for in-person visits in the Fall. We’re doing just anything and everything we can to keep these partnerships intact while they’re waiting.

The focus has been a lot on our telephone reassurance program as well and really boosting enrollment with that because there’s such a great need for it, especially for older adults living just in the broader community that aren’t in Eskaton communities.

I’ve been recruiting lots of volunteers for that as well, which has been great. The last orientation I did, every volunteer was from a different state. And so that was really cool to see having this impact across the United States.

"Kids Connection" is amazing!

Paul: Well, I think that’s been an epiphany moment for a lot of managers of volunteers that, realizing, “Wait a minute! I can recruit somebody from across the country, here or halfway around the world, for that matter.”

Lyndsey: And it’s very cool. We’ve had two ladies, for example. One was born and raised in Alabama, and the other one was from California. They were comparing notes on how they grew up and what food they like while  making this really wonderful connection and friendship with someone they might never normally meet.

Paul: Right! Speaking of the kids program, the list of things that you’re doing through your volunteers is amazing and it would take us 3 hours just to go through everything. But just in a nutshell, I want to mention the Kids Connection because the video is amazing. I mean, they’re awesome. So talk a little bit about the Kids Connection, “Buddies.”

Lyndsey: The Kids Connection is awesome. And unfortunately, again with the pandemic, we had to close it down. But we’re now reconnecting with the teachers in the communities to gauge where we’re at; if we can offer some virtual opportunities and then going into the Fall planning that we will be able to be in-person again.

But it’s just a wonderful program where we partner with local schools to have that intergenerational connection and they will come in and do art projects with the residents. Typically there’s one child assigned to a resident and they’re able to work together. We’ve had reading programs which we’re trying to do virtually as well.

A student is connected with a resident and they read them stories and are able to improve their reading skills while also making this connection. And it’s just such a marvelous thing, especially coming from teaching and education. It’s such an important piece having that intergenerational connection.

Paul: I remember when I was recruiting volunteers, I would get calls from mothers asking, “Is it okay if I bring my kids?” And I would say, “Oh yes! In fact, they’re going to really just be attracted to your kids maybe even more than you. They’re going to discover they have 100 grandmothers!”

Lyndsey: Before working for Eskaton, when I had come to visit, I would visit my friend and meet with the residents. There was one lady who was just the sweetest and she invited me to her 100th birthday party. I brought my daughter, who was two or three at the time, and she was in her ballet outfit. Oh my goodness, it was just pandemonium. They were just loving every minute of it. It was wonderful.

People at a table playing a game
Eskaton volunteers leading games

One of our favorites is a mini-horse...

Paul: And very much related to that is the pet therapy program, too. I’m sure.

Lyndsey: Love the pet therapy. It is incredible. We have just wonderful volunteers that have all different kinds of animals. One of our favorites is a mini-horse named Scooby, and it’s just so beautiful to see them come in. Most of our communities are pet friendly and the residents have their own pets. But just being able to have a miniature horse come in, feed it and just play around with it, it’s just so wonderful. And we had events with the SPCA as well where they come out and bring pets that can actually be adopted and the residents are able to adopt the pets. So I’m a big animal lover too, so it’s such a great program.

Paul: When I started out playing the saxophone in nursing homes, one of the nursing homes had a really beautiful yellow retriever and she would sit in the back of the room singing right with me as I played. Eventually, someone came to take her for a walk. 

Lyndsey: One of our life enrichment directors has an older lab that she brings to work with her every day. He’s always dressed up and he’s very well loved.

Picture of Scooby and Chris
Scooby and Chris

Paul: Other programs I thought were interesting and there were many of them is the therapeutic music, where you’re treating people that are experiencing acute chronic pain. So are you using music for pain management as well? Can you talk about this a little bit?

Lyndsey: Yeah. We had these wonderful singers that would come in for those who were terminally ill or not doing well and dealing with a lot of pain and they would come in and sing and it was just so beautiful because it really did distract from everything that was going on just to have these people that are coming in and singing for you.

It was just a really great program to have. And then we have lots of talented musicians that are happy to come in or singers that will come in. And it’s amazing the connection that music has. I love seeing it in our memory care areas as well where it’s just someone may be living very severe cognitive change where they are unable to remember a lot of things. But you play a certain song and they know every word and it’s just so amazing.

Paul: Yes, I know. I would play the Pennsylvania polka and people would get up singing and dancing.

Lyndsey: That’s great.

Paul: They couldn’t tell you who the president is, but they know that song. It’s amazing. The connections. I guess that was one of the things that, as a musician, really inspired me was seeing first-hand that my music could reach through that dementia and make a connection that way. It was awesome. I even had people sing harmony with me. I would play a song and they were singing the alto line or the tenor line. It was great! The Veterans Appreciation program, is very moving as well.

musicians playing
Musicians bringing comfort

Recognizing our veterans...

Lyndsey: Yes. We actually were hoping to do an event at the end of March at two of our affordable housing communities. I had a wonderful hospice that is wanting to do a celebration for the Vietnam veterans on Vietnam Veteran Remembrance Day. And so they are hoping to do an outdoor barbecue, and they’re going to present pins to all of our vets and just really honor their service.

Paul: Well, the video featuring the World War II pilot, an American bomber pilot, and the German woman, a WWII survivor, is just amazing to me. The pilot bombing Berlin, while she was on the ground as a German citizen, a young girl at the time, trying to survive. The story, I mean, it’s compelling.  

The other thing I wanted to touch on real quick was the Well-Being Philosophy Huddles, dialogues between the care partner, resident, and family members. Can you talk to that a little bit?

Lyndsey: Oh, yes. So the well-being philosophy is just so near and dear to my heart. We are very focused on making sure that all the employees are aware, all of the volunteers, the families, just everyone is on board with this. And so this is a huge thing.

Care partners work with the families to ensure that every resident’s needs are met and that the family is feeling comfortable that their loved one is cared for. We really just like it to be a collaborative team effort to ensure that all needs are met, as far as just making sure that those “domains of well-being” are really engaged and fulfilled, while a resident is living with us. This is their home and we want them to be living to their fullest potential.

Paul: I was really pleased to see how Eskaton has integrated the domains of well-being, developed by Dr. Al Power, into the culture at Eskaton. It’s just amazing. 

The Innovation Lab. That was amazing to me as well. That not only are you doing cutting edge things now, but you’re looking ahead, you’re looking at new things. Can you talk about the Innovation Lab a little bit?

Lyndsey: Absolutely. That is something led by my direct supervisor, our Strategic Initiatives director. I just am constantly fascinated by her because she is always three steps ahead. Truly this is a huge part of Eskaton. We want to be innovative.

We want to be bring new things and be always discovering what is going to assist in enhancing the quality of life of our older adults ensuring that our older adults have access to things like technology and assistance with really anything and everything that will be of help.

Aging services are not going away. They’re only going to get bigger. And we want to be able to provide the best that we can and continually move forward with this changing world that we’re living in.

Sacramento Kings Garden Project at Affordable Housing
Sacramento Kings Garden Project at Affordable Housing

...making sure that those "domains of well-being" are really engaged and fulfilled, while a resident is living with us. This is their home and we want them to be living to their fullest potential.

Paul: Yes. The need for long term care is growing enormously. I don’t think people quite understand just how enormous the need is going to be. I created a slide for one of my presentations showing the numbers.

Everybody talks about the Boomers, and the big wave of Boomers. Do you know that just as the last of the Boomers are turning 85, the first of the Millennials are turning 65? So it becomes additive, that is, one wave crests and then another wave forms on top of that wave.

Something on the order of 100 million people in the United States will be over the age of 65 by 2060. That’s incredible to think about. And they’re saying, Gen Y is 70-plus million!  Some researchers are thinking that it’ll never change.

Lyndsey: We’ve noticed just as time has gone on the increasing need for affordable housing for our older adults. The most common phone call that I’m getting is someone that is living on Social Security and they’re losing their home or they’re living out of a hotel, and they only have two days left before their 30 day stay is up.

Our affordable housing, communities all have wait lists that are a year or two long. And so that’s been a big focus of our Innovation Lab, too, trying to partner to be able to build more affordable housing.

Paul: One other thing I wanted to ask about the well-being retreats. Do the volunteers participate in those?

Lyndsey: Not at this time. We haven’t had volunteers participate in this. But that would be something that would be amazing to be able to do in the future and have them experience what we do. We’ve had these wonderful motivational speakers and people that will come out to those. And it’s truly inspiring and just gives you that pride going back into work and really feeling energized about that we are making a difference, and we’re going to continue to do that in the best way that we can.

Paul: Because, I know from my own experience, a volunteer would become very close to a certain person over time. And when that person passed away, they grieved because they lost a friend. That’s why I mentioned the volunteer, they might need something like that as well.

Lyndsey: Absolutely. And we have some different support groups that are all virtual right now that are geared towards when you are the person that is caring for them and dealing with that, or just caregiver fatigue in general. And then also what to do when those things start to happen when the person you’re caring for is declining or passing away and just how to deal with that because those are really hard emotions.

Addressing ageism and ableism...

Paul: And then finally, you’ve really done a bang up job in addressing ageism. That’s one of my pet topics and really correcting the misinformation. There’s so much of it out there.

Lyndsey: Absolutely. Ageism and ableism is something we’re very focused on because it’s like anything else, it’s discrimination and it’s assuming things about people. And my goodness. I mean, we have just these amazing stories of people in their nineties accomplishing these life goals that they had.

And just there is no box for how old you are. And you can’t do anything anymore, whatever your abilities are as far as ableism, if you have to use a walker, that does not mean anything about what you can accomplish. And just really trying to combat the idea that aging means decline because it does not. We truly believe that age is beautiful. And with aging comes this wisdom and these experiences that are able to be shared with others.

Paul: Do you cover that topic with your volunteers during their training?

Lyndsey: Yes. So we go over that.

Paul: Good!

Lyndsey: We are trying to be inclusive in everything that we do. And I love when we have older adults that want to volunteer as well, because that’s just another example of your contributing and showing so much.

And again, it’s why we really focus on the power of language and the effect that that has. We have all these words that we say are “Ouch” words because they’re hurtful. You know, we’re even trying to steer away from “seniors” and saying “older adults.” That one could be tricky to navigate because seniors is used very commonly.

We don’t ever call our communities “facilities.” They’re not facilities. They’re residents not patients or their room number or however they may be referred to. And we like the term “care partner” because they are partnering in the care. They are not just giving it. It is a relationship and just really focusing on those how important it is when you change that verbiage and the effect that it has.

Paul: I actually know one group that made buttons for all the employees, and it had the letter “F” with a line through it. And underneath it says, “We don’t use the F word around here.”

Lyndsey: Exactly.

Paul: I think I saw that at your website. I had to chuckle about that.

Lyndsey: Oh, yes. And it’s funny because it becomes so ingrained in you. I’ll get these phone calls about, “Oh, I’d love to tour your facility.” And it’s like, “Oh, which community do you want to see?”

Paul: Right. No-one wants to live in a facility. I don’t think.

Lyndsey: Exactly.

We truly believe that age is beautiful. And with aging comes this wisdom and these experiences that are able to be shared with others.

Paul: Okay, let’s get right into the nuts and bolts of the volunteer program, how it runs and some of your own philosophy about it and so on.

First of all, again, another really fantastic video, “Eskaton Volunteers Believe Age is Beautiful.” I don’t know who’s doing your video, but they’re so well done.

Lyndsey: Oh, my gosh. Yes, we have a great team.

Paul: Yes, they’re really doing a great job. So I really liked seeing the high five between a staff person and a volunteer as they passed in the hall. Can you talk about that relationship? How do the staff and the volunteers, how do they view each other? Because I know in some places, sad to say, sometimes the staff push the volunteer off to the side. But I didn’t get that feeling at all from watching this video.

Lyndsey: Absolutely not. To be completely transparent, everything is not perfect in every single community. You do still deal with that staff sometimes that it’s looked at as an extra job for them. But that is not the culture that we’re trying to really cultivate, a culture where it is a relationship.

And that’s been a huge part of my job, is really getting that buy-in from the staff to understand that these volunteers are making your life so much better. And they are such a help to assist with everything. And we do have many staff that just they want all the volunteers they can get, and they see that impact and the power of what they can offer.

We have volunteers that have so many talents and these special things that they’re able to bring to the program. And it has been just a really beautiful partnership when the communities and their staff are really buying into that and making it a team effort. We have really good longevity with a lot of our volunteers because of it.

They become very close to the staff because it feels like a family once you’ve been there a while. You have to have that communication to be able to best support the residents and understanding what they’re going through. So we just have some wonderful volunteers that have been with us for 20 years.

Paul: I think that one of the things that I suggest and I don’t know if you’ve ever gotten any feedback, but it goes to job satisfaction. Nursing homes are screaming for workers. And some of the research that I’ve read, it’s not so much about the low pay as it is about being valued or the job satisfaction.

And somehow when the staff person sees a volunteer interacting with one of the residents, it gives them a lift as well. I don’t know if you’ve ever gotten any kind of feedback like that from staff?

Lyndsey: Yes. And it’s been since we kind of restructured the way it works as well. I think a hard piece before is because typically there’s short staffing and there’s just so much on everyone’s plate. When the life enrichment team was having to train the volunteers and do orientation with them and go through that onboarding, that was really difficult. And so me taking over those pieces and just being able to say, here’s the volunteer, they’re fully vetted, they’re ready to go has made a huge difference as well. And not being looked at like another job that had to be done. It’s just a bonus.

Now you have this person that’s going to come in and engage with your residents. And it’s been amazing. And even having these groups, we had a lot of high school students that need to earn hours. And if they’re able to help with our dining services where they can sit down with the residents while they’re eating and just have conversations, it’s such a beautiful piece that really assists the staff.

It should just be this collaborative, wonderful environment because everything runs better when everybody feels their voices are heard and that they have value.

Paul: Yes, that’s something I talk a lot about in my book – meal assistance. And there seems to be some sort of I’m not sure what the right word is – disconnect? Family members are allowed to help someone eat. They have no training that I know of. So couldn’t a volunteer, with training,  take meal time from being a: “come in, hurry up and eat and then move on to the next group” experience to become a time for socializing instead? And so the volunteer is sitting with the resident and having conversation, and if they need some help with cutting their food or whatever, they could do that. So the meal time becomes something more than just hurry up, get them fed, and get onto the next thing.

Lyndsey: That’s another focus of our communities. We want it to be an experience. You want to feel like you’re at a restaurant when you’re going to eat. And we try to have volunteers that are in there playing the piano during meal time and just really make it this experience. And that’s something, too.

With memory care we’ve discussed that there are residents that are unable to eat solid food anymore, but still plating it and making it look like this beautiful meal that they’re enjoying and really assisting with, trying to give independence if they are having a hard time eating on their own. But then if they do need help just doing that, we call it “guided hand,” where they’re still feeding themselves, but you’re kind of guiding them to make it, just having as much dignity as possible.

Paul: Gosh, we could write a book out of this. So really, I guess the point I wanted to make here was that between your volunteers and your staff, it really isn’t just “us and them”. It’s just “us” working together.

Lyndsey: And that’s the whole thing that we want really for everyone in the community, with the families, with the staff, with the volunteers, and with the residents. It should just be this collaborative, wonderful environment because everything runs better when everybody feels their voices heard and that they have value.

Paul: I want to come back to talking about companion volunteers because that’s something I’m really hot on right now after the pandemic. But before I do that, I want to talk just a little bit about the nuts and bolts of your onboarding process. So a person comes to your website and they think this looks like something I might want to do. What happens after that?

Lyndsey: Absolutely. DOVIA (Directors of Volunteers in Agencies), had me do a presentation that I can share with you as well on just our onboarding process. So something that became an issue, is people would apply to be a volunteer and then they would just automatically be sent to a community. And that wasn’t a good protocol because if the community can’t utilize them, then it’s unfulfilling for the volunteer.

And so what we started doing is when I get an application via HubSpot that comes to my email, I reach out to the volunteer to let them know it’s received, and that I’m going to inquire with the community they requested. And then I reach out to the community with the application and ask them if they can utilize this person? Because on the application it’ll have what their interests are, if they have special talents, anything like that.

And if they say yes, then we start the onboarding process. If they say no, I reach out to the volunteer and inquire would you be interested in another community? We still try to find something that’s the right fit. Once they are cleared to the community they’re going to volunteer at, they come to a virtual orientation.

I do orientation every Tuesday at four. I just made that my regular cadence. But if they are unable to do that time of day, I’m happy to reschedule another time with them. And so we go through the virtual orientation.

Once they’re done, I send them some paperwork via something called SignNow so they’re able to e-sign all their paperwork. Once it’s sent back to me, then I sign off on everything, create a file on our drive that all the communities have access to. So in their specific community file, I will put all this person’s information and then send out an introduction email letting them know this person is fully on boarded. They’re ready to go.

They’re so excited to serve with you. And then from there, the life enrichment director will connect with them on scheduling and when they’ll come in for a tour.

Paul: That’s great. From the number of applications you get to the number of people that actually wind up in a volunteer position, do you have any feel for how many applicants actually become a volunteer?

Lyndsey: So I do monthly statistics on how many applications I’ve received, how many came from Volunteer Match, how many were just those on our website. And then the breakdown of how many went through orientation after they applied, how many were actually on boarded each month. And so that’s a really nice way to be able to kind of track, because sometimes you’ll have those people where they go through orientation and then you never hear from them again.

A lot of it right now, I think, is because of COVID protocols, when they do decide that they’re not going to do it anymore because you have to be vaccinated and you have to wear a mask. And we’re following all of the protocols in our communities. And so sometimes that is why people will decide they’re not ready to serve at this time.

Paul: The reason I bring that up in the program I had, we had a pretty high attrition rate right up front. We were pretty strict about who we were letting through the program. We made them jump through some hoops and we didn’t chase them.

Lyndsey:  Absolutely, I won’t chase people.

Paul: To me, the hardest part of the job was seeing the stack of applications and then seeing how many actually got through and knowing that you’ve got this tsunami need. But at the same time, you can’t just throw people in and hope that they stick.

Lyndsey: Yes. We really have to think about the community when people are being matched, because we have certain communities where the residents are extremely independent, and it’s not necessarily assisted living. They’re very independent of like our one in Sacramento. And so in order to become a volunteer there, you have to really have something good that you can offer. You have to be ready to teach a class that the residents can sign up to attend. And you really have to have kind of a bang for your buck for them to have interest.

Whereas, if you are in a community where we know someone just needs one on one companionship, then that’s going to be a little bit easier if we just the matching of the personalities really at that point. And then with high school students, we get lots of high school students that want hours. They’re really wonderful to utilize for things like bingo or those things that are a little bit simpler. They’re still getting their hours and we’re able to utilize them, but it’s not necessarily they don’t have to fit in a certain spot for it to be successful.

Paul: I think that’s what we’re touching on. There’s different levels of the volunteer. And I think the companion, for example, someone that’s going to be doing one on one, that would be a different person type than somebody calling bingo.

Lyndsey: Absolutely.

Just being able to give hand massages...

Paul: I want to come back to the companion volunteer, because I’m very interested in what happened during the pandemic. And I guess just to give you the punchline, it seems like we could have had five or six volunteers in each community trained to wear PPE and the gowns and whatever they needed and their sole purpose would have been just to hold hands.

Lyndsey: Right.

Paul: Instead of just locking people in their rooms. What do you think about that?

Lyndsey: So that was something that was really difficult because when everything was very shut down, we were having COVID outbreaks in the community. We weren’t able to have any volunteers come in. And so that was extremely difficult and especially for the staff, because they were trying to meet everyone’s needs. We did a lot of virtual opportunities and phone calls. We have a great spiritual care program, so a lot of our chaplains were utilized over the phone or via Zoom to be able to just offer that to the residents.

And that was extremely difficult when we weren’t able to have the one-on-one companionship. But that’s something that we’re really focused on bringing back. We have a wonderful program that is called “NODA –  No One Dies Alone”, where if you knew that someone, it was kind of their time, we would make sure that there was a person there at all times so that if the family needed a break or the staff was not able to be in the room, we’d have those volunteers that would be able to sit with them and provide that comfort and support.

Paul: I’m a tech head. I’ve been playing with computers since they came out. I have nothing against technology, but I also really believe that you can’t replace that same experience, that one-on-one experience. We need that human touch.

Lyndsey: Absolutely. And that’s just being able to be in there and give hand massages or just having the comfort of having someone there and that it was extremely difficult on everyone.

Paul: Seems like, though, going forward, that we could have your top four or five volunteers, the ones that are your heavy hitters trained to be “companions” during a crisis such as the pandemic.

Lyndsey: That’s a wonderful idea, too. Another problem we face was a lot of volunteers weren’t comfortable coming in, and everything was going on, especially when we would have the outbreaks, and they’d have to think about their world as well and their family. It’s been amazing being able to open things back up and have these opportunities.

Your volunteer statement of philosophy...

Paul: Well, right now in my volunteer management class, the students are working on creating a statement of philosophy for their volunteers. And in your volunteer handbook, you start with a great statement of philosophy concerning your volunteers and I just love it. Can you talk about that a bit about your philosophy?

Lyndsey: Yes, absolutely. Our philosophy of volunteering is really just the importance of volunteers and their individual contributions; what they can bring to the program  their talents, their motivation, their empathy and their impact. As we say: “We’re not nonprofit. We’re for impact!”

Paul: That’s awesome.

Lyndsey: We really want to be able to make an impact. And we truly believe that volunteers are just one of the biggest pieces of that.

Paul: So I’m going to ask another big question. Is this in your strategic plan? Is your statement of philosophy for volunteers in the strategic plan for Eskaton?

Lyndsey: Yes! So that’s one thing that’s really wonderful and especially talking at the DOVIA board meeting the other day, we were just discussing a lot of hospitals are switching to for profit and getting rid of volunteer programs. And it’s devastating.

I know my mom was volunteering with the hospital in the NICU prior to the pandemic, and she’s just devastated that she hasn’t been able to go back. And that is something that’s so great about Eskaton is that  getting rid of our volunteers is never a thought.

We will always have volunteers. We will always have the volunteer program. And we really recognize the power of volunteers and how much they contribute. And being a nonprofit as well, you need to have volunteers.

Paul: Right.

Lyndsey: If you really add up just the hours and what it would cost if you had employees that were doing these things or if you were getting performers to come in and do these things, it’s astronomical, realizing just the value that volunteers bring.

Paul: And of course, the reason I’m bringing that up is because sometimes leaders, CEOs or administrators will say to me, “Well, volunteer programs, they’re not sustainable. They’re not reliable.” And I respond by saying “Well, if you don’t put air in your car tires, they don’t work so well either.”

Because maybe someday you, Lyndsey may move on to another position or something, does the volunteer program fall apart at that point?

Lyndsey: No way!

Paul: So it has to be written into the documents that govern the organization, that the organization embraces and appreciates the value volunteers bring.

Lyndsey: And that’s a big part of us being transparent as a company. I have a whole folder of just everything and anything I can think of to put in the volunteer management section so that if the day does come where I’m not in this position, whoever takes over is able to see everything, even email templates of the communication between myself and the volunteers and our training sessions and just anything that we can so that they’re able to continue this program and keep it up to speed.

And as amazing as it is right now, after the pandemic calms down it will even be more wonderful.

Paul: Yes. And hopefully that will be not too long from now. So I think we’re on the right track as far as the pandemic goes. Hey, I forgot to ask some questions about the companion volunteers. Do they get any special training?

"We're not nonprofit. We're for impact!"

Lyndsey: Yes. And it really depends if they’re going to be in assisted living as opposed to memory care. There’s some different extra training that will go along with that. But a lot of it, too, is just matching the right person.

For example, we had this lovely Japanese woman that moved into one of our communities, and she was having a really hard time because there was no one else that was Japanese within the community. And she really wanted to have a connection with someone that understood her culture and her history.

And so we found a wonderful woman who is Japanese and wanted to volunteer and was able to come in so they can speak in their native language to each other and just have that wonderful connection that wouldn’t have been able to be established otherwise. That’s a huge piece we’re working on in general.

It’s just world language volunteers being able to meet those needs for every language possible. And that’s been a focus for me lately. And with our telephone reassurance as well, trying to find those volunteers because it just enriches that connection so much.

And then with our memory care, that’s a huge we do a lot more training on those one-on-one volunteers so that they really have a better understanding of cognitive change.

And many of the volunteers that want to work in memory care have had experience with a loved one, and that’s what brings them because they really understand how meaningful it is. I just had done a training recently with our wonderful group called the Master Gardeners.

It’s a lovely group of ladies who have all been certified as Master Gardeners from Placer County. And they come in and they do projects with our memory care residents where they’re able to they have a lot of sensory tables with different things from their garden or gardening tools.

And then they will make a potted plant or plant vegetables in the garden outside. And it’s just the most beautiful thing. The last time they were here, I was in there.

And one of the ladies owns a farm, and most of them actually have farms. And one of the residents who is pretty somber most of the time, she grew up on a farm, and they were chatting back and forth. And the volunteer was explaining how her sheep had had babies last night and had twins. And the resident’s face, just lit up being that she grew up with sheep as well. It just made my heart explode.

Paul: That’s awesome! Yes, that’s awesome. Well, I was going to ask you if you had a story that really stands out in your mind. I think you just told one.

Picture of people discussing plantings
Master Gardeners

The volunteer program becomes a conduit for attracting new workers...

Paul: It really is moving when you see those connections. And for me, this is what inspired me to come into the field of aging was my volunteer experience. And I didn’t plan to to ask this, but have you ever had any volunteers that went on to say, “Hey, you know what? I’d like to work here.”

Lyndsey: We have, actually, yes!

Paul: Okay!

Lyndsey: That has happened where we’ve had people that came in and volunteered and just thought it was so wonderful that they’ve been applied for a position with us.

Paul: Do you keep any stats on that at all?

Lyndsey: I don’t have stats on that. We should keep stats on that one.

Paul: I think you should, because that’s one of my selling points to the CEO that the volunteer program becomes a conduit for attracting workers.

Lyndsey: That’s very common with our interns as well. When someone does an internship with us, especially like our gerontology students, or speech pathology students, they’ll end up wanting to work with us, which is really wonderful as well.

Paul: Yes. I think exposure is everything. I think that prior to me going into a nursing home, nursing home was like nowhere on the radar at all. And I think I told you that story. I wound up being a choir director by accident. But anyway, one of the choir members said, “Hey, let’s go down to the nursing home and sing our Christmas carols.”

And so I called a nursing home, and we went and then the hooks were set. After that, after three years, I was visiting 170 nursing homes a year. All that to say, the volunteer experience then becomes this recruiting tool for workers. And I also think it helps towards improving the image of the nursing home in the community. “What is that building down the street? Who’s in there?” I think a lot of the perception still remains that it’s some dark, scary place.

Lyndsey: That’s exactly what I was going to say. People think of it and just think, “Oh, it’s the sad place where people are just going to pass away.” It’s the opposite of that. It’s a place where the whole focus is living well. And that, I think, too, is why volunteers do end up wanting to work for Eskaton, because of what they see.

I mean, I really just love this company and their focus on staff well-being as well. Each community or each department has a well-being champion who is their person that’s in charge of getting staff involved in the different things that they have going on. And they’re just so understanding of family.

I’m a single mom with two kids, and stuff comes up. They’re just more than understanding about everything. And they’re focused on keeping your employees happy so that the longevity is there because especially within our communities, that’s a hard job. And with the past couple of years, it’s even harder. And providing that support in that “…we understand how amazing you are and how valuable you are.”

"We understand how amazing you are and how valuable you are."

Paul: Yes! One of the things I loved to do during National Nursing Home Week was to pick maybe ten, a dozen nursing homes,  order and deliver six-foot sandwiches to them for lunch.

Lyndsey: That’s great!

Paul: We coordinated with them. They knew that it was coming. There was a large grocery chain in the area; we had a relationship with them. And so we would send them the twelve names and addresses and they would all get six-foot sandwiches and all the fixings to go with them.

But one of the things that really touched me while we were having fun was an administrator. She was walking towards the buffet table where we had everything all set up, and she turned to me and she said, “Why are you doing this?” And I said, “Well, because we want to say thank you for what you do.” And I kid you not, she said, “I don’t hear that very much.”

And then tears started to come down her face. It was just a simple thing, a sandwich that changes the perception of what the nursing home is and who’s in that nursing home and what’s going on there. And I’m sure you have too.

You meet remarkable people. For me, it was Elizabeth. I always talk about Elizabeth. She was 80 something when I met her in a nursing home.

She was a Woman Air Service Pilot. She was qualified to fly 39 aircraft during World War II. She was ferrying aircraft across the United States back and forth so that they didn’t have to use the fighter pilots to do that. She could fly B-17’s.

Can you imagine getting in a B-17 bomber and flying it? I don’t know where she went from, maybe Oklahoma to San Diego or something like that. So you meet people like this and you’re stunned! “You did what?!”

Nursing homes... I call them a library with 'living' books.

Lyndsey: I know. It’s just incredible. I think about that. I haven’t done anything with my life. Oh, my goodness. You’ve just had these ten different lives over this time span that you’ve done all these incredible things.

Paul: I call nursing homes a library with living books. I love it. Even at my age. I’m 68. I don’t mind saying that, but when I’m talking to somebody that’s 106, that’s a whole other generation.

Lyndsey: Yes!

Paul: And it’s really fun. I love it. There’s a woman that would visit and I would be telling her about something I was concerned about, and she would say “Don’t worry about that. You don’t need to worry about that.” I would say, “Oh, I love you. Thank you.”

Lyndsey: One of my favorite questions to ask residents is what advice do you have for someone my age? Or what advice would you give to the younger generation? The answers are just they’re either hysterical or best advice ever.

Paul: Yes! And, I have had some blunt answers come back as well.

Lyndsey: Another thing I loved is just the honesty. I think of it, like from teaching so long, kids and older adults are at points in their life where you’re not going to be anything but honest. And it’s just amazing.

Paul: You’re exactly right. There are two groups you can’t lie to: your teenagers and older adults. They look right straight through you and they’ll call you on it. It’s funny. I think that’s it. Do you have any final thoughts or anything that you would like to add?

Lyndsey: Well, I was going to mention some of the technology aspects that I think are really helping us and would be meaningful for other aging service providers. We have a system called AccuShield that’s just great as far as keeping best practices as a company and knowing who’s coming in and out of our buildings at all times.

It also tracks volunteer hours. And it also has a special feature called the Love Meter. It will show residents that are not getting visitors, and need a little extra support, making the staff aware that this person may need just a little extra caring and love or maybe the one-on-one volunteer.

Paul: So is this software that was designed specifically for volunteer management?

Lyndsey: No, it’s just for just our signing in and out at the community. So it’s a wonderful little kiosk that if you sign in as a service provider, volunteer, family member or guests, and that way we’re able to just really see everything as far as data and see how many people are coming to visit this resident, just every detail you can think of. And it also keeps everyone safe so that we know that who’s coming in and out at all times.

Paul: Well, that just reminded me of a whole other topic we didn’t cover. Do you have, like five more minutes?

Lyndsey: Absolutely!

Paul: Collecting data and then creating impact statements. It sounds to me like you’re collecting a lot of good data.

Lyndsey: Yes. And my supervisor every single month collects data on everything. I mean, just every aspect. And then we put them in our yellow book stats so that we have the breakdown of just every piece of the company.

And that’s a part of the transparency, too, really showing accurate data and being able to see where we can improve what’s going well. And it’s extremely important.

Paul: Have you made the connection between the quality of care and quality of life and what your volunteers are doing? Have you made any connection there? For example, Mr. Smith was depressed, and then we sent this volunteer to him, and now his depression scores have improved. Do you have data like that?

Lyndsey: I don’t know that we’ve tracked data on it, but just knowing that there are those pieces out there where someone was not doing very well or was not seeming like they were engaged enough or happy, and then being able to find a volunteer that’s able to fulfill that need.

For example, we had a gentleman who was very, very active and then he had a lot of cognitive change. He’s in a memory care neighborhood, and he loved to walk. That was all he wanted to do was just walk. And so sometimes the staff wouldn’t be able to get him outside to walk.

It  was so amazing that we’re able to have a volunteer come in and just walk around the community with him knowing how meaningful that was for him.

Paul: Right. You’re identifying the underlying need rather than just treating the symptom.

Lyndsey: Really, it’s just an unmet need. It’s something that no one’s really paying attention to and then to figure out what it is they’re needing. And that’s been a big part of volunteers, as well as finding volunteers that can help with all those unmet needs, when the staff are unable to provide that at that time.

Paul: I think the reason I’m kind of hot on that topic as well is because I think the CEO or the administrator wants to know what the impact is. And I think it’s important that the manager of volunteers can show that there’s been a monetary impact or that there’s been a change in our quality measures.

I believe that the data would show that. To me, it doesn’t take much imagination to think that if somebody’s getting regular visits, that they’re going to feel better.

And I’ve even had nurses tell me that people who are getting regular visits fall less. So are we keeping stats on that? Do we know that? We know anecdotally that this is happening. But you have to collect the data and analyze the data. You can get a volunteer to do that. There’s a nursing home where they have retired accountants collecting data and running analysis.

...that's been a big part of volunteers... that can help with all those unmet needs, when the staff are unable to provide that at that time.

Lyndsey: We have, for example, a third party survey company that will contact all of our telephone reassurance participants and volunteers, all the families of anyone that’s in one of our communities, the residents of those in our communities. And so we do get a lot of data that way.

As far as with our telephone reassurance, the questions will be things like: “I feel less lonely. I feel like my well being has improved. I feel safer knowing that someone’s going to check on me.” And so we have those wonderful statistics which have been just great. But as far as just the volunteers going into the community and discovering the difference that our volunteers have made, that would be a wonderful thing to track with the residents.

Paul: I think as managers of volunteers, we have to ask “What are our key performance indicators? What are the things that we are looking at from month to month, week to week, and where does the volunteer fit into our picture? We have wonderful stories to share. We’ve have wonderful pictures of smiling faces. But, what is the impact on the bottom line? Is our census improved? Has our staff turnover rates improved? Do volunteers impact our star-rating?”

Lyndsey: I’m thinking, too, even tracking because we have residents that volunteer and then some of our homeowners as well, that volunteer and seeing the impact that that has on them because we all know volunteering helps you as a person.

It helps your well being and makes you happier and more functioning members of society. Even tracking that data, how much it has improved the resident’s life when they are volunteering and assisting in their communities?

Paul: I won’t belabor this, but it’s just something I’ve really been thinking about the last couple of years. Yes, we need to tell the stories. But I think that if administrators at any level, whether it’s a rural nursing home or a large urban community, that if the administrators can see a tangible return on investment, that would be very helpful in advocating for the volunteers.

Lyndsey: Absolutely.

Paul: Lyndsey, thank you so much for taking this time to share the Esakton story with us and sharing such encouraging and valuable insights. 

Lyndsey: Absolutely, this was wonderful.

For more information about volunteering at Eskaton, please contact Lyndsey Dammann, Manager, Volunteer Resources:

If you are considering volunteers for your nursing home or would like to ramp up your existing volunteer program, please contact me: Paul@VolunCheerLeader