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When you’re in the business of making people’s lives as fulfilling as possible, like Summit Place Assisted Living is, the series of holidays that close out the year become a fun way to challenge yourself and your team. Executive Director Jozef Bosman and Life Enrichment Coordinator Fred Kamperman love to share the food, fellowship, and festivities as one year ends and another begins.

Kids of all ages get excited to see the big guy and his sack full of presents. Photo courtesy Summit Place

“We really deck the halls,” says Kamperman. The team puts up three or four different trees, 15 to 16 feet tall, and a wreath on everyone’s door. “We also have a door decorating contest the residents get involved in, all competing against each other. They really outdo themselves, better than what I can do for them.” Other contests include making gingerbread houses and a series of different theme days, like Christmas colors day, and ugly sweater day.

Since the “ugly sweater” phenomenon has only been popular for a few years, some might find it surprising that it’s also caught on with the retirement crowd. But the residents of Summit are definitely on board. “They’ll say, ‘I don’t think it’s an ugly sweater, I think it’s very beautiful.’ But really, anything with a competitive edge to it? They are all in,” says Bosman.

Decorations become a friendly competition, as each resident tries to outdo all the others. Photo courtesy Summit Place

No winter holiday would be complete without a real focus on a special, hot, filling meal, and the Summit staff are fully prepared, according to Bosman. “We really go all out with our menus. For Christmas there was prime rib, twice baked potatoes, steamed vegetables, and about four different desserts. We really make sure we make it a big deal.”

Along with cheerful decorations and eating a bit too much, the year-end holidays are also characterized by the spirit of giving. “Downstairs we have a day care, Generations Early Learning, for ages 1 to 4. Families down there adopt the Summit residents, and we also adopt the children, so we’re exchanging gifts back and forth,” Kamperman says. “The children came around Christmas caroling outside the windows, and we have washable markers so that the residents and the kids can draw on the windows and play tic-tac-toe.”

One of the handful of trees that graced the rooms and halls of Summit Place during the holidays. Photo courtesy Summit Place

This year, a friend of Summit Place was able to pull some strings and bring one of the North Pole’s helpers to visit, as well. “We had Santa’s horse come around and visit the windows. The residents really enjoyed seeing that,” says Kamperman. “We also highlight things like Winter Solstice, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, and make sure we cover the different educational aspects. We have residents that come from Norway, Sweden and Portugal, so I highlight the different cultures and traditions so everyone gets to know each other a little better.”

The festivities don’t end on Christmas morning—Kamperman and his crew still have New Year’s Eve to think about. “Of course, we don’t stay up that late, but we are doing New Year’s in Paris this year,” he says. “I have a big Eiffel Tower that I light up, and we’re all going to wear French berets and have champagne.”

Residents let their personalities shine through when they decorate the doors to their rooms. Photo courtesy Summit Place

Even while he’s organizing a hot buttered rum happy hour or a social event, Kamperman is also filling another role in the halls of Summit Place. “Fred’s the eyes and ears for all of us. He is known as the fun guy, so residents will share with him, and if there’s a concern, he can let us know. If he notices that somebody has had a decline or needs some assistance, either myself or our nursing staff can step in,” says Bosman. “If someone is showing a little depression because, for example, they lost a family member, we make sure we spend a little extra TLC and time with them to make sure they’re feeling okay.”

Kamperman describes his role at Summit as keeping an eye on the small details, to help make sure that people’s lives are fulfilling in the big picture. And that means paying attention to a lot of different aspects of daily life. “Mental, physical, and emotional—those are my three big focuses. And I make sure that we cover each of those every day,” he says. “For example, I do stretch classes to get some physical activity in. I have 90-year-olds bending over and touching their toes! To make sure they’re mentally involved, I do things like word games.”

Caring—and a touching moment between two people—goes a long way to making the holiday season special. Photo courtesy Summit Place

Fortunately, he doesn’t need to attend to all of these needs all by himself. “I make a lot of partnerships with different organizations, like the Humane Society. I have them coming in every two weeks with animals—I just had them come in with bunnies for everyone to cuddle and hold,” Kamperman says. “The Assistance League dropped off some beautifully wrapped presents for our residents. And Fred Meyer gives us flowers. If something happens to one of their bouquets, it’s too labor intensive for them to pull them apart. So they give them to us and we make new bouquets.”

“Basically,” Bosman adds, “if they’re here we want to make sure they’re having the best times of their life. We had a resident move in a little while ago who said she wishes she had moved in earlier. People are sometimes reluctant to change their lives, but she said that this was the best Christmas. She sort of gave up on Christmas because she was always at home alone. But we made sure she had her presents, Santa and his horse came to visit—it was wonderful to be able to give her a great Christmas again.”

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