As the end of the year approaches, winter holidays call to mind large groups of relatives gathering together in the family home. So, what does it look like for people who don’t share their home with their relatives?

Fred Kamperman has been answering that question for the last four years as Summit Place Assisted Living’s facilitator of holiday spirit — and finds his job title to be a great match for his personality. “My title here is Director of Life Enrichment,” he says. “I love it because it’s a real ‘people person’ type of position, and that’s right up my alley.”

Life Enrichment Coordinator Fred Kamperman sits with the two most popular members of the Summit Place staff. Photo credit: Steven Arbuckle

Although traditional visions of a cozy yuletide don’t necessarily include a professional medical staff, Kamperman sees that Summit is exactly what some people need.

“Last year we had a woman move in and I gave her some special attention because she was moving out of her own house,” he says. “I asked her how her Christmas was here, and she said it was the best Christmas she ever had. Because for the last few years she had been living on her own, and all her friends are living on their own, and they never get a chance to get together. But here everybody comes together.”

Sheila Tomtan didn’t always have a great Christmas as a child, so she enjoys the season even more when it comes around now. Photo credit: Steven Arbuckle

The season started around the beginning of December, and Kamperman and his crew wasted no time getting all of their plans underway. “We just finished caroling,” he says. “We have a pianist come in to start off the season and everybody sings along with her. The music gets them into the spirit of the holiday.”

The staff also transform hallways and gathering spaces with a variety of festive decorations and lights. “The trees are up and we’re decorating, so a lot of the residents come out and give their opinions on what should go where, and we incorporate them as much as we can,” says Kamperman. “We’ve decked the halls already, so everybody has a wreath on their door.”

This oversized hallway decoration is the result of two neighbors collaborating. Photo credit: Steven Arbuckle

Many residents don’t stop at the wreath, installing more ornate decorations on and around the doors to their private rooms. One couple, who have two rooms next to each other, take advantage of their increased real estate by dreaming up elaborate displays that brighten entire hallways.

While decorations are a big part of the holiday spirit, everyone loves presents — giving and receiving. “Some residents are adopted by staff members,” Kamperman says. “We don’t say anything to them, we just give them a present and they don’t know where it’s coming from.”

Personalities are on full display when the halls are decked at Summit. Photo credit: Steven Arbuckle

Community partners also help with gifts for residents, including Bellingham’s Assistance League, a nonprofit that does philanthropic work in places ranging from schools to hospitals. “They ask for a list of people who don’t have family in the vicinity, and we give them a shopping list of what we think these residents might like,” says Kamperman. “They are constantly getting back to me and asking, ‘Does this work, does that work, is this size okay, should this be in large print or small print,’ and then they come in with the gifts all wrapped. Then Santa comes in on the 22nd and we hand out the presents.”

In the evening, residents go for a ride to James Street Estates, just north of Safeway, which is known for its bright and shining holiday displays, as well as Hospice House, who also go all-out with their show of cheer.

“Then, for our New Years, we usually pick a European city, because midnight their time is 3 o’clock in the afternoon our time,” Kamperman says. “We’re doing New Year’s Eve in Rome this year, so ‘When in Rome’ is the theme. We have a whole menu with different Italian foods and wines, and we’ll toast with Italian champagne and Italian sodas.”

The last few years have seen a lot of COVID restrictions affecting who can visit, but as we get further away from that danger, families are getting back to being closer to each other. Kamperman is glad to see that the family room is once again able to host groups who stop in to celebrate with their loved ones.

Ellie Murray lists family as her favorite part of the holidays, although she also appreciates a visit from Bubbles. Photo credit: Steven Arbuckle

As he makes his way among the people who call Summit Place home, Kamperman makes sure to listen to what everybody cherishes about the holidays. “One resident was talking about how important family is, and another resident was talking about both the gift giving and how important it is to show appreciation to your friends and to your family,” he says. “Another resident who is very religious said that it’s a time for her to reflect on her faith. Everyone has a different approach, and we try to accommodate a lot of different aspects.”


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