By Heather Reinhart
DASSEL, DARWIN, MN After working for 21 years as a quality auditor in manufacturing, Hutchinson’s Cindy Henning was laid off due to downsizing. What she did next changed the course of her life. And she couldn’t be happier.
“I had to find out what direction I needed to go, and it’s taken me this way,” she said. “Once I got into the school, I was hooked.”
With a blank slate in front of her, Henning decided to change her career path and do something she loved. So, she attended Ridgewater College in Hutchinson and earned an associate of applied science (AAS) degree in the activity director program where she learned the skills needed to design, implement and lead activity programs for the aging population.
After job shadowing at Burns Manor, Henning knew that was exactly the kind of work she wanted to be doing.
Henning was hired by the Lakeview Ranch in 2011. Lakeview Ranch, with locations in Dassel and Darwin, is one of the leading Minnesota dementia care residences providing customized care. What sets them apart is their low resident-to-staff ratio, which is 4:1.
“She’s doing things with the residents and that is really what distinguishes us and makes us different,” said Susan Marco, Lakeview’s community liaison. “Our activity is crucial. No matter what is going on, she is full of energy.”
Confucius said it best when he said, “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.” It seems Henning has taken that to heart, and others have taken notice, too.
Activity director of the year
Henning’s coworkers nominated her for the Minnesota Activities Director of the Year award. They received word that she would be this year’s winner, but kept it a secret until the announcement was made at the Minnesota Statewide Activity Professionals Conference, which took place in St. Cloud in October.
“It was a total shock; total surprise,” Henning said, adding that several of her family members were in attendance to surprise her. “I was so overwhelmed, but very grateful and humbled by it.”
Duties in Darwin and Dassel
At Lakeview Ranch, Henning oversees and schedules the activities that go on at both the Dassel and Darwin locations, which have a total of about 30 residents. Activities range from cooking, drawing, and crafts to music and pet therapy. They read the newspaper and discuss current events, take regular bus trips for ice cream, and will soon travel to see holiday lights and to do some holiday shopping.
“We have a very full schedule, but it’s always subject to change,” Henning said. “We gauge it by what the residents are feeling like that day, and it’s important that we have rest periods, too.”
Reminiscing is a key component to many of the group’s activities and outings. Henning learned that some of the residents were avid golfers, so she got a putting green so that those who are interested get the opportunity to putt. She also learned that some of the men were farmers, so this year they took a bus trip to a working farm.
Michelle Olson, Lakeview’s administrator, praised Henning for the individual attention she gives each and every resident.
“With dementia, the focus is often on what they can’t do, but she’s really in tune to knowing what each person can still do. She’s always trying to do new and different things. She’s really our spark plug here.”
Henning gives credit to the Lakeview Ranch staff (which has one activities assistant at each house) and the residents themselves for making her job so enjoyable.
“Working with the group of people that I do at both houses it’s been great,” she said. “They deserve a pat on the back. The staff and the residents it’s like they’re family.”
Working with elderly dementia patients can be challenging, but Henning said she couldn’t see herself anywhere else.
“I feel in my heart that these are special people, and we owe them all the love and care we can give them,” Henning said. “They give me back twice as much as I give them. It’s a hard job, but the reward, and working with the families is awesome.”
Was it difficult to make such a major career change as an adult? Absolutely, but Henning said its been very worthwhile.
“You want to feel like you make a difference,” she said. “I think God brought me here.”