Reaffirming the Culture Change Mission with The Pioneer Network

Schlegel Villages sends more than 20 ambassadors to annual conference

During the course of any serious effort towards improvement, it’s important to stop once in a while to assess progress and pay homage to the successes and failures of the past while considering the present and hopes for the future.

Schlegel Ambassadors connect with other Pioneer Network 
participants following a Schlegel Wisdom of the Elder

In many ways, the annual Pioneer Network Conference is a way for those who strive to change the culture of aging in their corner of the world to do just that. Each year, the event draws hundreds of like-minded culture change agents together to discuss how to shape a “culture of aging that is life-affirming, satisfying, humane and meaningful.”

Schlegel Villages once again sent a team of more than 20 ambassadors to the event held outside of Chicago July 30-Aug. 2. It was a cross-section of the Schlegel culture who took in the education sessions this year – a broad representation of leadership team members, direct care partners, and returning resident David Kent. For those who had attended the conference in previous years, it was an opportunity to reconnect with the movement and the people who play a key role in its continued momentum. First-time attendees, however, represent the key to the movement’s spread, for they are the new champions who return with the sense of responsibility to share the knowledge they’ve gained and inspire their peers to consider what person-centred and directed support should look like.

“The nice thing about every Pioneer Network Conference is there’s a lot of first-timers,” says Schlegel Villages director of education and program development Jessica Luh Kim, who attended for the fourth time this year. “With first timers, just like in our group, the enthusiasm, the energy, the passion is really inspiring and it kind of fills your fuel tank to continue moving forward.”

The theme at this year’s event, Be the Future: Person-Directed Culture is Happening, resonated with Jessica in many ways because it offered opportunities for reflection on the past two decades of culture change in the elder-care sector while looking forward towards continued improvements. “It makes you reflect and think: how can we continue challenging ourselves?” Jessica says.

In the context of the culture change movement, which began in 1997 when a small group of visionaries working within the American long-term care sector decided to address the serious flaws in traditional nursing home care, Schlegel Villages is doing well. The organization is well known internationally among change agents and several of this year’s Schlegel Ambassadors presented during the conference or acted as panel members in plenary sessions.

Representing Canada at the International Conference.

“We are doing a good job,” Jessica says, “and we can pat ourselves for all the great work we are doing, but there are people standing on our shoulders who will surpass us if we aren’t humble enough to recognize that we still have a lot of areas for growth, and I think that was one of the biggest takeaways that I had this year.”

Perhaps the most exciting thing is to see and hear what ambassadors gained from attendance at the conference and to watch each one implement their version of a new idea to enhance village life. The Music and Memory program, the elimination of bed alarms and the Java Music Club are three of many concepts or programs that emerged thanks in part to ideas shared through The Pioneer Network in previous years. Each new idea and each new trial represents an opportunity for improvement, and this is why Schlegel Villages continues to invest in education opportunities such as this.

More stories from this year’s event to follow in The Village Voice.