When the position for director of Penacook Place's activity department became available four years ago, a curious thing happened. A group of residents asked to meet with Julian Rich, president and CEO, to recommend that he consider hiring Rosa Rivas and Donna Shaw for the job. Rosa and Donna were assistants in the department at the time. They were unaware that the residents were advocating for them and were not interested in seeking the position. Nonetheless, they ended up leading the department — much to the delight of the residents, the administration, and themselves.
"It's unusual on two levels," Julian says. It's rare that residents would feel compelled to lobby him about job candidates. And it's quite uncommon to have two staff members share administrative reins. "But it is working out remarkably well, and that's a testament to Donna and Rosa."
Neither of the directors are the type to stay in her office while the department's two assistants and cadre of volunteers work directly with the residents. Whether it's an exercise class, playing games, making crafts, discussing a topic, or presenting a social, Donna and Rosa can be found dishing out donuts, singing along, leading a group, or participating in other hands-on ways. "Otherwise," Donna asks, "how would you get to know the residents?"
When it's time to tackle paperwork, plan out activity schedules, or engage in other administrative duties, the two directors share those responsibilities as well. They don't have any policies about how
to divide the work, they say. They just naturally fall into a routine and get the work done. "We've been together for many years," explains Donna. "We've never had a disagreement. We're like an old married couple."
Rosa has been at Penacook for 21 years. She began as a CNA, moved to the rehab department, and settled into the activity department 14 years ago. Donna's tenure stretches back even farther. She started in 1984, left to try another profession for a while, and returned in 2001 to Penacook. While they both knew the activity department inside out and had the respect and admiration of the residents, Donna and Rosa needed to take training classes and pass tests to fulfill state licensing requirements for activity directors.
Among the more popular activities they present are Wii virtual games such as bowling, Skype video Internet chats between residents and their families and friends, trips into the community (especially to restaurants), and intergenerational programs with student volunteers. The duo also arranges an especially busy schedule of entertainers for the residents, sometimes presenting as many as two or three performances a week. Activities are designed to give residents opportunities to interact with another and engage socially, to stimulate their bodies and minds, and to maximize their quality of life.
The secret to their unusual arrangement and their success, says Rosa, is that they both like people. "The residents are easy to like." Helping Donna and Rosa in the activities department are assistants Delia Hernandez and Mattie Colson as well as a cadre of volunteers.