Be The Change at Evergreen Woods

– Irene Katzias –

What is your position at Evergreen Woods?

Social Director

How long have you been at Evergreen Woods?

I have been Social Director for just over one year.

What excites you the most about this position and this company?

I really love the freedom to be creative within the community. Creating events is my passion and the fact that I have no limits on what I can do for my Members is awesome.

What is your favorite thing about working for Senior Living Communities?

I really love having counterparts in other communities that we have access to talk to. For example, I call the Social Director down in the Carolinas all the time and I get many emails from others as well.  It is just great to be a part of an organization who all are like minded and just want what’s best for our Members.

Describe a time that a Member had a positive impact on your day?

Bill Goldberg, one of our Members, has been welcoming and positive since I arrived at Evergreen Woods. I have a florist background of sorts and would make flower arrangements for the dining room often.  Mr. Goldberg took pictures of my arrangements, downloaded them in photoshop, and painted over them to make almost a pop art piece.  He surprises me with them framed all the time.  They are in my office currently and really hold a special place in my heart.  Often times he gives them to me when I have had a tough week or just really needed a pick me up and he didn’t even know it.

Have you utilized the Elevate program? If not, do you know someone who has?

I am currently undergoing some formal and informal mentoring to one day elevate to a higher position.  Blair and I have also had similar conversations and continue to check in on my goals and how he can help.

How have you grown professionally and personally since joining the Team?

I think personally I have grown since being here in the way I think about others.  I have always had a servant heart but when you put that in practice daily, you can’t help but think of others before yourself. Professionally, I have learned many communication skills and teamwork strategies to get the job done but also have a lot of fun doing it.

What about your position allows you to pursue what makes you feel the most passionate in life?

I love providing for others and creating spaces for the community to foster.  Seeing a new Member start attending regularly our programs and events thrills me!  Each time I get to see them they come out of their shell more and more.  It is a privilege to see the growth of an individual at this stage. Sometimes people generalize that once you reach a certain age “it’s all downhill” and it couldn’t be further from the truth.  I have the firsthand experience to see them thrive and become a totally new person.  That change drives what I do daily.

When it comes to your programming, what is the motivation behind specific activities, events, programs that you do with your Members?

Diversity is key, we have a few clubs on campus that meet regularly to discuss poetry, current events, gardening, and so on.  Introducing new technology and experiences is key. For example, our community has many Members who are academics, they enjoy lectures, learning something new, and debating on certain topics.  I try to bring people in who are experts to fuel that discussion and curiosity. Whether it be from Yale, The New Britain Museum, or the Connecticut Historical Society.  Recently we turned to Spotify and created a podcast for all to listen to on the go.  Members were able to give lectures on Broadway Show, their recently published books, life adventures, and more.  During COVID-19 this podcast has served well for not only our Members but the surrounding community.

Your community has a monthly social event called a Signature Experience, what is your favorite part of planning, executing, and experience itself?

I love surprising our Members!  We had an Opera day, not too long ago and on top of a lavish dinner, live opera performance, and a lecture from one of our very own Members. I rented a complete display of costumes from the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.  For the day Members got to have a private museum complete with a full-size opera box.  Their faces of amazement were totally worth it!

Tell us about your favorite Signature Experience from your time at Evergreen Woods?

Broadway Day was my first Signature Experience and by far my favorite.  As I grew up as a theater geek, getting to plan something so personal was awesome. We started the day with a local preschool coming along for a JOY dance class where we learned “A Chorus Line.”  Afterwards we had lunch and a lecture of the Broadway show Oklahoma.  Following, we hosted Van Dean, Broadway Producer and Tony Award Voter and Justin Sargent, Broadway Actor, for a talk back.  Members had the opportunity to ask questions from the pros.  The evening started with a Tony Award Dinner complete with red carpet and cabaret performed by Justin Sargent.  After dinner we had dancing along with a 30-piece big band by the name of Tuxedo Junction.  The Members were starstruck and had a blast!  Soon after the day was featured in the local papers and I actually won an award granted by Senior Living Communities for the day.  Definitely an experience I will never forget.

How does your community come together to work together to provide a vibrant social life for your Members? Dining, Wellness, Social?

We have a great team!  From Day One, everyone pulled together to create a great experience for our Members.  Over time we built an A team that is unstoppable.

A common misconception is that senior living social activities are all bingo all the time. How do you break that stereotype?

I always have a surprise up my sleeve. I love to take the surprise and delight approach to most things. Common activities are fun for our Members, but you can never let that be a driving factor.  Most people naturally want to learn and experience something exciting.  By creating experiences that allow them to let go, try something new, or be completely shocked; our Members are forced to keep guessing what will come next. Anticipation is sometimes more exciting than the event studies show. But to build that anticipation, you must really gain the trust of the Members and time and time again deliver a new experience for them to enjoy. Signature Experiences are part of it but also having a special concert by the New Haven Choral or dunking our Executive Director in a dunk tank.  Or how about live reindeers visiting for Christmas; always keep them guessing and looking forward to the possibilities!

How do you incorporate your Member’s feedback, personal lives, preferences, etc into your daily programming?

Our programming committee is a great source for this.  They really drive the personal opinion piece of programming.  In addition, it is all about taking the time to get to know people for who they are, not what they think they want.  From there I can plan and execute things that I know will be special for all but especially that individual.

Fun Fact: What are a few of your favorite hobbies? What is something many people don’t know about you?

I love archery.  When I am not at work I love to go to my cabin in the woods and just shoot all afternoon.  It is relaxing and helps me focus. I am a huge dog mom! With 3 dogs and a cat, my animals are everything to me.  They frequently all come to work with me and say hi to the Members, as well.  One of my dogs is now considered a “Member” according to our Member run newspaper.

How has COVID-19 impacted your programming? Why are activities important during this time?

This is a new adventure for all of us.  I am thankful for the new perspective COVID-19 has given me.  Not only is this a way we can reinvent what programming even looks like, but it did give me an opportunity to work more one on one with a few Members who never preferred a group in the first place.  I was able to bring Archery here and teach several Members as a one on one program.  That alone created a huge buzz and excitement and created a goal for our Members to achieve.  Creating a space to foster community is really the key both before COVID and now.  The way you do it may look drastically different, but the impact is still the same.  Members here are thankful for all the effort we have put in during this pandemic to keep them excited.  They never know what is coming out of this office next and I plan to keep that momentum going well past this Pandemic.