Aspire for More with Erin

2 Executive Directors Discussing How to Create Holiday Magic in Your community

November 30, 2023 Erin Thompson
Aspire for More with Erin
2 Executive Directors Discussing How to Create Holiday Magic in Your community
Show Notes Transcript

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Erin:

It's another David and Erin episode, and I just have to tell you that a lot of people do like to listen to us. you should feel important, David. you're an author now, so I feel important that I'm, you're still talking to me. thank you.

David:

Absolutely. Never stop.

Erin:

Can we plug Kazoo Leadership just for a second? How's it been? The response I've seen has been great.

David:

Yeah, getting a lot of great reviews out there. just, people across different platforms and different, lines of business. All our senior living friends are helping out and chiming in and have had great feedback on the book. And, it's weird because you put yourself out there. And it's in print, so it's never going to go anywhere, and it's a little nerve wracking, and then you see your name on Amazon with, other people, and it's just, it's crazy when you see that, and it's surreal, you just, Like those two worlds just don't mix when you're thinking about it. And I don't know how famous authors, they may get used to it, or something like that, but it's still fun. And it's, some people on LinkedIn that I haven't spoken to in years picked up the book and posted something nice about it. And reviews on Amazon have been going super strong and that's great. And, so I'm really excited to see 2024 and all my kazoo leaders out there.

Erin:

yes. Next podcast, maybe I'll have a kazoo and we can, you can teach us how to do that. So we look very festive today. If you're not seeing this, we are in our Christmas gear because we are going to talk about the holidays inside of senior living. Let me just give you a visual. David lives in Florida and he is wearing a button up, looks like a beach shirt, but it's red. Hawaiian Santa shirt, but of course there is a Mickey involved in David's attire. And I am wearing a former resident's sweater. That she gave me to wear, during the holidays. Black, white snowballs and a big sparkly snowman.

David:

I'm glad you didn't steal it then, that's

Erin:

a good thing. I did not steal it. She gave it to me to wear. I'm wearing it. I think. I wanted to talk today about creating magic and who best to talk about creating magic than with Mr. Prince Charming himself. For those who do not know, David Hopkins was Prince Charming in Disney World. Is it, is there any higher than Prince Charming? Is there anything higher in Disney than Prince Charming?

David:

There's quite a few positions, I think, at that point in time, but yeah, it's, it's quite an honor, and we always say we helped the character out, so that was a lot of fun, and, you truly get to experience magic, because nobody knows the cartoons. Like a four year old girl. detail to detail. When you turned on your left foot and you bowed, what were you thinking? So you gotta know it, and you gotta know it cold, and there can't be a hesitation.

Erin:

Yes, absolutely. And then in your book, you reference, all the Disney and how hard it is to create magic. It's constant training. It's constant preparation. It's constant planning. And if you're a parent. And to working parents, the work that it takes to make the elf move, and wrap the presents, and buy the presents, and all the things to create magic. I remember years upon years telling my husband, magic is not magic. This is not magic! David, Mr. Magic Maker, let's talk about how we created magic inside of our communities. That sounds

David:

great. It's hard. But first, I want to chime in on the elf. Oh, okay. Yes. You people on Instagram who get this crazy wild blowing snowflake powder everywhere and have a full diorama of what the elf is doing, majority of us are waking up at 4. 30 in the morning going, crap. Did you move the elf? No! And then you got to run out and figure out where did you not put it for the last three days and hopefully you can get it someplace, quietly. So thank you to those people on Instagram out there that are showing us up. Thank

Erin:

you. Yeah, so I, at the time of this recording, the elf has not shown itself and I got a speech last night as to why do you think Jack Jingle Bells isn't here? And I just said, Because he works on his own time frame. We're not like everybody else. He will come in December. Anyways, Jack will make an appearance tonight. I'm

David:

excited. This will be great.

Erin:

Yes. Anyways, so yes, that's part of the magic that is created for children, but it requires a lot of work from the parents and I think that's the same concept inside of a community where we want to make it special for our residents and for our families. And how do we do that? It's the Disney way, right? Planning, preparation, teamwork, knowing where everything goes and getting involved as a team. So I will just go ahead and say that I am not the best decorator. I don't feel all the warm and fuzzies. Learning how to, where to place things and trying to find them to be perfect because I'm just like a connection person instead of a perfection person and the pressure to be perfect with decorations makes me stand off a little bit. But when I know that I'm supporting my lifestyles director, my activities director in a way that they love that they want, that, that makes them feel important. Then I will do as I'm told. And I do very well in that regards. So talk us through Prince Charming's way of managing, creating magic inside of communities. Did you help decorate?

David:

So I like yourself take very good direction. In fact, my wife told me I needed to get married because I needed that direction in my life. I have, a helper. even when I'm sitting at the traffic light, when the light turns green, even though I've been driving for a significant amount of time, she still lets me know that it's green so that I can go and it's safe. Way to go. but in the community, so my first experience, I blew my, Activities Director's head off in, the first time I, I, joined in senior living as an executive director because I come from Disney and Disney does things just a little different. So we have Mickey's not so scary Halloween party, right? And so it's the entire park is decorated like you're trick or treating and there's pumpkins and everything everywhere. But something magical happens. After Halloween, it's all gone, and we're ready for Christmas. And it happens overnight. Now Disney, obviously a much larger operation, has an entire warehouse just dedicated to Christmas decorations. And there's people that work there full time to make sure all the lights are ready to go. They're pre staged in the backstage areas of where they need to go. That park closes. Lifts come in, cranes come in, and everybody has their assigned jobs, and they, off they go, and they decorate the entire park. So literally, if you were there the last night of Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party, You come back the next morning, it's all gone. And it's now ready for Christmas. I tried to hire those people because I'd love for that to happen in my house. Cause I'm not a good tree fluffer. In fact, that's my worst thing. And then just getting all the ornaments on and making sure they're spaced right and all that good stuff, I like the end result, but I surely don't like doing all the work around that, but the prior preparation. And the planning are key. But most of the time we show up as an executive director, we're like, Hey, it's getting near Christmas time, let's check out the Christmas decorations. They're like, Oh, it's in a tub. Or it's in that box in the closet. You're like, Building's, 50, 60, 000 square feet, and we've got one tub of Christmas decorations? Okay. And then you open up the tub. And it's like the magical mystery tour, right? I've got half of a tree. I've got four candles from a menorah for Hanukkah and a wreath. And they're like, we want our communities to feel festive and warm and inviting. And you're like, I can't do that with this, three things, none of them work and they don't tie together. So getting planned and preparing throughout the year, right? Sometimes you have those months that you've got a little extra money you can spend. That's when you should start hitting those Christmas decorations. And you can find them online now, super cheap, right? And get those as you, you build up that community. I once worked at a larger well to do community and they put up 43 full size Christmas trees. I don't like decorating one, never mind more than one. But they had unique trees. We had a, toys. It was a toy tree. So everything you grew up from starting in the 40s, they had lit, put around the tree. We had a pet tree for all the pets that were in the community and the staffs. Picture they could put their picture of their dog or their cat on the tree on the as an ornament and then on the tree and everybody had a tree that they could engage in kind of their own niche, right? So that they like to do those kind of things, or they were proud about their pet or their kids or their grandkids, and they put up trees all over the place. It was truly magical. But we had a huge storage room, they had a full size, like Christmas sleigh we'd haul down to the lobby and put up with, the six foot tall nutcrackers and it was beautiful, but helping your activities director let the ED become a worker at that point in time. Say, I know you got this. plan it out, let's execute it, have a team meeting. And it's fun to make that magic for your communities and do it overnight. Order in pizza and have your team all come together and decorate overnight. And then when the residents get up and come down for breakfast in the morning, it's there. It's just like that first Christmas morning when you traipse downstairs and you're a kid and Santa Claus has come and now the tree has expanded with presents and it's so magical because you can create that with just a little bit of teamwork and a little bit of preparation.

Erin:

That's a great idea, really. I, there's a couple things. Yes, buying Christmas stuff before Christmas is important. Planning that, but also planning to buy stuff in December, late December, when things are on sale for next year to make a list. Because that is some really great ideas. You buy a little bit in October, you buy a little bit in November to get you through and then late December, you buy the rest of it that you can get on clearance. That's important. I like what you said in regards to like, when you said 43 trees to me, I felt like. Oh God. Oh no. No. But then you said it was magical, but isn't that the whole thing? Yes. Like I view 43 Trees as a lot of work and from the work aspect of it, the functionality of it. But then when people walk down the hall, what they see is magic. Yes. And that is what creating magic is. Exactly. It's doing the work that's required to feel the emotion. That you want people to feel and planning is it I used stand up a lot in, early parts of November. Okay, let's start talking about when we're going to decorate what the plan is, what the phases are. Those are important because everybody needs to be a part of that. It is not the activities director's responsibility to decorate the entire community. I would assume. They are the chief and we are the followers, but one person cannot decorate most communities. Not at all. So use your meetings, your standup meetings to talk about strategy. Use goodwill that most people are feeling right now to entice people to decorate. I will tell you, I was so proud of myself. We needed some trees. We didn't have 43 trees, but I needed at least six trees in one community. And of course, every year you have to have a new tree. It really doesn't matter how planning you're just, you might as well just plan on buying a new tree. I found one on Facebook marketplace that I was super excited about and I went and picked it up and I came back and I, of course I made a big deal about it. Oh, this is going to be a great tree. And we set it up and just. green leaves on the tree. Look, just All fell off, basically. it was still salvageable, but it was hilarious. It was hilarious. And, we talked about that for a long time. That was creating magic. I was super excited about something, saving money, getting a tree. And it was a mess. And people said, don't ever do that again, Erin, just go to Walmart and get a tree. Stop trying to save money. But the other part is. That creates the magic, is if you have a hallway or a floor that has a tree, make some of the caregivers responsible for what that tree looks like. Give them the opportunity to create the niche of them. I have seen such joy and camaraderie and then the residents get involved when the caregivers are being a part of that tree, in a way that's just beautiful and that is creating magic. Absolutely. Have you had that experience too?

David:

Yeah. what the funny thing is, it seems to be like all the holidays are a surprise. It's oh my God, we've got Christmas coming up. I've been alive for 48 years and Christmas has been on the same day in December all of my 48 years. It's shocking how consistent it is. when we say we don't... Really plan for it's because, we're in February. We're thinking about Valentine's Day. you need to be a couple months ahead. And I really always encourage my activities people to be 2 months ahead in the calendar planning because I want to know about it ahead of time. If we need to shift money around, borrow from one side to pay the other and move that stuff so that we can have a great experience for our residents consistently through the year. You can't just have Oh, my God, Christmas is around the corner and we've got half a tree and stuff. Four candles for the menorah. I'm going to need a thousand dollars to go decorate this community. And the owners are like, we just decorated it last year. Where'd all that stuff go? Somebody put it somewhere and we can't find it or it went out the door or whatever happened to it. And you're just like, oh my God, I want to create this experience for it. But I haven't planned for it. But shockingly, the day happens all the time. It's the same. when you're talking about it, even Hallmark does Christmas in July to get you ready. Six months to go! Till December! So you know, when they start airing movies, you should start talking about Christmas. Super easy because a little bit each time doesn't make this overwhelming craziness that we have at Christmas time to plan and engage our residents, engage the families and do that. And Christmas time, everybody and their brother comes out of the woodwork to volunteer. So it's not like you don't have a shortage of volunteers pouring in your doors in December. So when you have those special hallways, you can engage the caregiver and you give them a group and say, you're in charge. Take this group, I need to really decorate this kind of side hallway that doesn't get a lot of attention. And then you find... That's a key place for your families to come and look at it, and maybe it's a hallway that, less desirable from a sales perspective, but now it's so engaging, and you've got this wonderful, warm feeling around it that your sales tour starts taking a detour through that, because I just want to show you this one little location. It's so cute what the residents and the care staff did for that, and that speaks volumes when you have care staff and the families and the residents working together to take pride in their own home.

Erin:

Yeah, no, we're not just creating magic. We're also creating creative accounting.

David:

Yes, absolutely. And memories.

Erin:

Yes, and memories, but I'm glad I'm not the only one that did creative accounting. Of course. So if we don't talk about it, other people will feel like, Hey, we all do creative accounting, you know what I mean? Sometimes you just have to do what it takes to

David:

make it work. You didn't have to buy as many air filters for whatever reason. Cause you got to buy one, get one free sale. Some of that electrical extension cords that you need go under the maintenance account and we make it work.

Erin:

Oh yes, that's so true. That's so true. What is the, have you had any really bad experiences that you've had to overcome in the holiday? not a lot of preparation, so here's what we have to do to make this happen. And what did you do to overcome that?

David:

I inherited a group, that was close to us they called it Dining in the Dark. And so it's for people who are blind. And they do a fundraiser and had agreed to host a dinner in the holiday spirit. And of course, everything's decorated. But what they like to do is, they like you to experience the way people who are blind So typically they would blindfold you. That's the way they like to do it. But of course I had to go one step above that and not be just average. So in the midst of all this holiday decorations, I decided we're going to black out our entire dining room. So we bought sheets of three mil black, plastic. It taped the inside of the windows, closed all the blinds, closed the, thing. We created a dark tunnel that you came into so your eyes would adjust down into the dining room. And we had everything taped and secured so there was no light. We turned off the lights and we'd look up and every fire alarm had a little red light on it. And it was like a little red light show up at the top of the ceiling. Oh my God, what are we going to do here? Okay, shh. Cover up the light. Not the smoke detector, just the light. Yeah. Yeah. The only reason it was okay with that is because the servers was our sheriff's SWAT team and they served the meal because they get to use their night vision goggles. Because if you ever put on night vision goggles, it's really cool. You can see in the dark, but it's 2d, it's not 3d. So depth perception is a big thing. So serving plates and drinks and salad helps them with their depth perception when they're wearing night vision goggles. So I had 26 SWAT officers. fully tacked out in their night vision goggles serving, because of course I had to just go a little bit higher and not do just a normal chicken dinner. We did spaghetti with salad, and you had to pour on your salad dressing. Truth be told, I was trying to get a new carpet for the dining room, so I was hoping if I had enough spillage, I could really work that and get that under capital. didn't quite work as well. But we put everybody in smocks to see how they did with dining in the dark. And as they started serving, I'm sitting in the dark eating and the only thing you could see was the, officer's guns have night sights and they lit up. So you could see like a little light and then it would turn and you couldn't see them because it was blocked by their body as they were moving around throughout the whole thing. So you had to really communicate that. So in the meantime, The next day, I've got a big visit from corporate. We're still trying to clean up, take all this stuff down. And we had such a great time. We raised a ton of money for the dining in the dark for the people that we hosted for that. We had a great turnout. The residents loved it. The families loved it. And I was left with this gigantic mess and corporate showing up in a few hours to do their annual Christmas visit and thank everybody. of course, it was a team effort. A lot of people were in there just trying to pull off stuff, get it cleaned up in that time frame. probably wouldn't have done that around the holiday season, but yeah, that was probably my most challenging one. How about you?

Erin:

Challenging. I've always worked with amazing activities directors like so amazing that they would start talking about it in October and I would have to tell them that I cannot, I got to the point where I learned to take things a day at a time and that was how I was going to alleviate some anxiety. And so I had to tell them like, I can't think about it, but I want you to plan dates and I will be there and I will support you, but I can't necessarily. Talk about it right now. You're important to me. I value this. We're going to make it happen, but you choose and I'll be there. I'll just make sure that I'm there, but we had a, an open house, like most communities do in Christmas, every year we have Santa, but there was one year that Santa did not come like something fell through the cracks and nobody's scheduled. And so straight panic ensued because Santa always comes, we always have these pictures, we had things planned around pictures, it was I would say an epic fail, we bought some kind of Halloween costume, Santa, and bought some pillows and things to, to try to do a makeshift, like, all you have to do is sit there, that's it, just sit there and smile, and it. It worked. I would not say that was our most shining proud moment, but it worked as long as he didn't move. It was fine. Yeah. Sit there and look pretty dude. Just sit there and look pretty. So after that, we learned a lesson that we book Santa well in advance and we follow up with people who we think have it under control. You can never go wrong with a follow up. You can never go wrong. Inspect what you expect.

David:

Ooh, very nice. I like it. Yes, I would always have my business office person help the activities person because for me, most of my activities directors were super creative, right? really not cutting edge, more bleeding edge than anything. the discipline and the fact finding and the organization piece probably was on the other side of that spectrum for them. So having somebody who was really good at a spreadsheet or accounting for them and the business office manager was great because they would always kind of balance them right in a way that they had worked together before. They trusted each other and it wasn't me managing it right because then it's the boss telling you what to do and you don't want that you want it to be a team collaborative effort, but you've also got to balance their strengths to their weaknesses. that's great if you go Christmas shopping and you spend 1, 000, but maybe you only had 200 in your bank so you have to figure that out real quick right Having somebody else help them that's on the team and make it that team atmosphere can really be a helpful perspective so that you're not as an executive director responsible for everything. One of my great mentors, Lee Cockrell, he's the executive vice president of Walt Disney World. I had coffee with Lee, he mentored me when I was early on in my leadership, still to this day, we talk a lot. And one of his things was, people would come in and say, Oh my God, you're the number two guy at Walt Disney World. You must know everything. He's I don't know anything. He's I hired smart people to know what they're talking about. He's I hired an engineer with a PhD in electrical engineering and something else. And Lee very readily admits he didn't even graduate college. He's here's a guy with a PhD, and he reports to me, so I ask questions, and I learn to support, and I get out of his way, and I clear obstacles that I can clear out of the way, so that he can be the most successful. And as leaders, you can't know every little detail that goes on in the building, right? We talk about, we can't be the one that always answers the phone so that there's a smiling, happy face on the other end, or whatever else is going on, or giving every tour, or you just can't do that as a leader. You've got to make the magic by bringing your team together to create that magic and let them do that surprise.

Erin:

Yes, and especially if teamwork is not a strong suit in your community right now, the holidays is the perfect time to set the example of what the next year is going to be like. And you say to them, I understand this is not how we have done it in the past, but this is how we want to continue to do it in the future. So together we're doing this. This is our first exercise in team building. I think the holidays are a huge opportunity to fix a lot of broken things with intentional effort. And it's a time full of grace and mercy and thankfulness that as a leader, we need to take advantage of and be an example and set the tone. So even if your team is not where you want it to be start. Now, during the holidays and continue growing it to where you want it to be

David:

for sure. Absolutely, that's so true. it's such a graceful time where there's so much love and so much enjoyment. And quite honestly, you're getting so many cookies brought in by everybody in the department. Like, how can you have a chocolate chip cookie? And not feel good about something, granted, if it's your 40th chocolate chip cookie of the day, then it's probably not going to feel good. But, this is the time, this is a magical season. Why is that? There's that magic that's in the air. There's a love that grace that you can truly start now. You don't need to wait till January 1st. Like you said, Erin, this is the time that people will give grace because it is that holiday season and everybody goes through stuff. You, as an executive director, have a building full of people that may have lost a spouse. This might be their first Christmas alone, without their spouse, and, if they've been married 60, 70 years, that's a big adjustment. How do you provide magic? How do you provide grace for them? And, one of the... Best memories I have is we had a lady that was in that kind of transition phase of from assisted living to memory care and weren't quite there yet. We were having the conversations with the parents and the beautiful interaction between her and Santa Claus where she was a very religious woman. He prayed with her, got down on his knees and held her hands and she cried because she was so excited to see Santa Claus. The magic was brought back into her heart. Her kids were like, Oh my God, I've never seen my mom like this before. And that magic just fills that air and you've got to take advantage of it at that point in time to help your team, help your residents and really continue to grow your community. Absolutely.

Erin:

No perfect time in December to set up a great next year. did you ever have... Where residents would donate to give gifts to, Yeah. Okay. I had a resident who's no longer with us, but when Trump was in office, she wrote huge checks because Trump was in office. that, that was it. that was it, and I was just like, okay, I can't, this is a lot of money. Trump is in office and they need help. Okay, because she was with us for a long time, so in between two different presidents and I tell you when Trump was in office, her gift became higher. Did you have a resident that would do that? Or do something strange for this time?

David:

so not strange, but it was a little beautiful. so luckily we had an independent living that decided, I had a guy who was very well seasoned executive and ran a fortune 100 company and he developed a 401c3, like he had everything lined up and ready to go. He handled all of that. And all we had to do was provide the list of the employees. They did it based off of seniority, which was super great, but I had one lady walk around and she gave those silver half dollars to every employee. That's nice. And it wasn't so much that it was the 50 cents, but it was that silver half dollar and they were all shiny. She would go to the bank and get a few at a time throughout the year. And it was very intentional, in, in, in her gift to the care staff, which was amazing. It's quite unique to see, not big checks like that, it was, very special for her to do that for the care staff.

Erin:

that's the beauty of it. Our care staff or in our culinary and every member who receives that, that's an important thing to them because the way that I have always seen it is this is the gift from the residents. And I I never was in the running right to get that money as an executive director, but I sold it. I wanted to make sure that everybody remembered and how important this was because it was a surprise to them every time they got it because the amount was always different. And that was really important to me. And the same lady who made sure that the check was higher. When Trump was in the office, she had a conversation with me. Actually, this is her sweater. That's I guess that's why I'm talking about it. She made it very clear that she would not give the money. If I were to receive any of it, if you are going to receive any of this, I will not write this check. I'm like, I'm not going to receive any of it. I promise you, this is not for me. This is not me. And I had just never had that kind of conversation. I was just like, Erin, you're not going to take offense to that. That's. It's not about you. This is about her. Absolutely. And the role that she wants. Yeah. But I got a pretty sweater out of it. There you go.

David:

And great stories. Yes. Yes. It would still make you laugh

Erin:

today. I got one

David:

question for you. Yes. You ready? Yes. What's your favorite Christmas carol?

Erin:

Christmas carol or Christmas song? Okay, we'll go song. Okay, so I used to throw really big parties for my associates. Nice. We had lots of music. I love music. so if I was at my community, Mariah Carey's Oh Santa, the real hip hop song would always be playing. Always. We would have this Unwrap the saran wrap ball. And so that song was playing, there is a hip hop song saying what you want for Christmas, that one was playing too. Could you give me

David:

another line off that real quick?

Erin:

And Erin would be acting a fool because that's just the way that we party. That was my biggest joy was throwing the Christmas party. And it was a lot of work because I put a lot of effort into it and I acted a fool and we had two parties to help accommodate, the shifts. So from a party perspective, those two songs from a personal perspective, Amy Grant is my original queen of Christmas. Yes. I love Emanuel and Grown Up Christmas List, but, Oh Come All Ye Faithful is a good one. And Oh Holy Night, I cry every time I hear, gosh, why can't I think of his name? Josh Groban? That one, yes, that's the modern one, but the old timey one, the older version of Oh Holy Night. Maybe a Bing Crosby or somebody to that effect, because that was my grandfather's song. Yeah. what's yours?

David:

contemporary Christmas song is I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas. None of these new country stars that are trying to do it now, that's ridiculous. It's got to be the old Gary, Gailey Peeby that did it. but I'm a big Bing Crosby, Andy Williams, like the Time Life Christmas music treasury when it came out on two albums, big 33 albums dating myself. But, that was my fave. I could listen to that till no end and sit by the Christmas tree and just truly embrace the magic of Christmas. yeah.

Erin:

Yep. Those Bing Crosby, albums at Christmas time. that is a gift that the Greatest Generation will give me forever. And will the Baby Boomers like it? I don't know. But the Greatest Generation gave me Bing Crosby at Christmas. Amen. tactical strategies that we gave today. Yes. Help your activities directors. Build team. Support through the holidays. Correct a lot of maybe what went wrong in the holidays. Be intentional with that creative accounting. Yes. Go a long way. Yes.

David:

You've got more of an employee than a boss. Yes. You're going to do a lot more physical work, which will be great because it gets you into the community with your residents, with your care staff, and you can truly get on the ground floor and do what you love.

Erin:

Absolutely. It's such a way to mend a lot of bridges and to make the bridges that you already have a lot stronger. Absolutely. It really is. your presence is important, your words are important, and your actions are even more important. And most importantly, your activities director probably wants you more than they say they do to be involved in the process.

David:

As an employee, not as a leader.

Erin:

As an employee. What a gift that is. It's huge. What a gift that is. Anything else, David, that you want to say? No,

David:

I've submitted my list to Santa. I hope I'm on the nice list this year. And, praying for a great Christmas for everybody out there. And enjoy that time. Just make sure you take some time to... Truly stand around and look around and see the trees and the families and appreciate what an awesome gift you're given to take care of people in their final years.

Erin:

Absolutely. It's a lot of work, so you have to look at it and appreciate it in the moment. Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for joining us today, David. Thank you for listening to us and as always aspire for more for you.