Crane House program coordinator realizes dream job

There’s lots of contagious laughter this afternoon in the Crane House at South Franklin Circle. A small group of female members is in stitches as they play a game called “Reminisce” where they discuss a question randomly pulled from a deck of cards.

“Do you remember your first boyfriend?” asks Karen Leary, Crane House Program Coordinator.

It may seem like a simple game, but it’s one of the many important exercises provided for the members of the Crane House, many of whom need memory support. Studies show that these types of exercises help keep older minds agile.

Next, the residents gather in another room for an exercise class with fitness instructor, Heidi. Karen sets up for the next program, a creative arts project.

As Program Coordinator, she is responsible for the day-to-day social engagement of the Crane House assisted living program members. She loves her job.

“Programs and activities are instinctive to me,” says Karen. “My brain never shuts off! I’m always thinking of new and creative projects for our members. We keep them engaged in life and bring them the world.”

Karen’s programs cover a wide range of content, including meditation, writing, massage and painting. “Things that fire-up the body, mind and soul,” she relates. This also includes social outings. Recently, members visited the Fieldstone Farm Therapeutic Riding Center, where they groomed and fed horses. Future outings will include the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and Patterson’s Apple Farm.

A lifelong resident of Chagrin Falls, Karen credits her mother and her grandparents, who were both teachers, with fostering her creativity.

Until she began working at South Franklin Circle, she was a full-time mom. She also dabbled in part-time work as a paralegal for her father, an attorney who had quite a few clients living in retirement communities.

“Many of them lived at Judson,” remembers Karen. “Compared to other retirement communities, Judson always impressed me. Not only were the communities beautiful, but the staff had such special relationships with the residents-they really knew them!

With her children grown and moving on to college, Karen began setting her sights on what she really wanted to do-something that combined her creativity with her appreciation for older adults. Then she learned that Judson was building a new community in the Chagrin Valley.

“When they broke ground in 2007, I knew I wanted to work there,” remembers Karen.

Prior to South Franklin Circle’s grand opening in 2009, she applied for and accepted an activity coordinator position at Judson, working mostly at Judson Park. She eventually started picking up hours at South Franklin Circle and transitioned there permanently in July of 2012.

“The Crane House was designed specifically for programming. The public spaces naturally flow into one another, so there’s a level of comfort,” says Karen. “The arrangement benefits both staff and the members.”

In addition to Karen’s mind-body-spirit fostering programs, The Crane House is also staffed with professionals trained as a team to accommodate the holistic needs of each member, even if a member’s health challenges their daily functioning.

Karen also helps social worker Linda Mervar coordinate a caregiver support group for the spouses and families of Crane House members with memory issues. Karen is assistant activities certified and a certified dementia planner.

“Everyone has a story they want to share,” notes Karen. “Through programs, I try to bring those stories out. It makes them feel happy, validated and affirmed. They may not be able to verbalize the worthiness, but the experience stays with them. It warms their heart.”

Though it’s only been three months since Karen started working at Crane House, the members and their families are feeling the impact of her programs. “I love what I do and I’m grateful everyday I come to work,” she says in closing.

For more information about assisted living in The Crane House at South Franklin Circle, call (440) 247-1300 or contact us.

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