Editor’s Note: This month Scott Averill, CEO of Brookside Retirement Center and Certified Group Practitioner, is our guest blogger. He has been a support of Validation since 1991.
“Thank you for changing the way I look at life forever.” Emmie, 7th grade, Wellsville Middle School
I discovered Validation in 1991 after my activity director, Jennifer Carpenter, returned from a conference where Naomi Feil had presented a one-hour workshop. Jennifer walked into my office, literally slammed a copy of Naomi’s book on my desk and said: “You need to read this book. I think I know what we need to do now with Josephine, Nellie Mae, Edna….” continuing on to name several more of our residents with dementia. Although initially skeptical, I finally looked through the book several days later and had a personal epiphany when I read the following line: YOU MUST BE FIRMLY GROUNDED IN YOUR REALITY SO THAT YOU CAN FREELY TRAVEL IN THEIR REALITY! It was like a lightbulb going off in my head as I suddenly realized I no longer had to try and orient our confused residents to my reality. Instead I could simply go into their “world” and have conversations that actually made a difference and enabled me to connect with them in a meaningful way. My activity director and I along with a couple other staff members went on to get trained in Validation and we have been practicing ever since. Over the last 28 years Jennifer and I have facilitated hundreds and hundreds of Validation groups with our confused residents.
Three years ago Jennifer and I were contacted by the local middle school about the possibility of having their 7th grade writing class come over for weekly visits with our residents. We loved the idea and decided to invite 2 to 3 of the students each week to participate in our Validation group. The experience has been nothing short of SPECTACULAR!
“The circle made me feel a part of the community. It made me feel a part of the nursing home. Singing and having a fun time, I had a good time whenever I went there.” – Rowdy, 7th grade, Wellsville Middle School
The students have a wonderful teacher, Mrs. Sheri Bentley, who has also participated in many of our groups. Her enthusiasm for this intergenerational opportunity is contagious. Of the experience she and her students have had participating in our Validation groups, she said: “I pounced on the opportunity to take my students from my seventh grade elective writing class over to visit the residents at Wellsville Retirement Community. I had no idea the impact that it would make on my 12 and 13 year old students. My heart is beaming with pride.”
These 7th grade students are growing up in an entirely different paradigm than when I was there age. Nursing homes were places to avoid and even just the thought of going to visit for a few minutes was repulsive. The Wellsville Middle School students in their writing assignments wrote that coming to Wellsville Retirement Community is the highlight of their day. They look forward to each and every visit.
“It was cool to go over there. I learned a lot from them and about myself. I can have confidence in what I say about myself. I was able to say stuff in The Circle that I never said around my classmates.” – Roman, 8th grade, Wellsville Middle School
“After our visits to The Circle at Wellsville Retirement Community I felt grown up.” – Dylan, 8th grade, Wellsville Middle School
The deepest wonder in being a part of these magical groups is in what they teach all of us. We deeply experience and come to the realization that we are all partners in life and that we intimately belong to one another.