What’s the Plan, Jen?
There is always something happening at Sunnyside Manor! Get a peek behind the scenes with Activities Director Jen Groh, ADCP, CDP.
There is always something happening at Sunnyside Manor. Whether it’s trivia, music, crafts, happy hour, or indoor kickball, life here is full of activity.
All of that activity takes planning, and that planning comes from Sunnyside Manor’s activity director, Jen Groh, and her dedicated staff. We sat down to chat with Jen about what it’s like behind the scenes and what it takes to “bring the happy!”
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity (updated December 2023).
How long have you been the activities director at Sunnyside Manor, and what did you do prior?
This March will be five years. Before that, I was an assistant activities director at a skilled nursing and rehabilitation center. Prior to that, I was a hair stylist. I’ve done everything that I have possibly been able to do under the sun!
How did you choose to work with seniors?
I wanted more longevity to my career. My sister-in-law worked for [a large health care organization] as a recruiter. She was saying, “I think that you would be really great at activities!” So, I started per diem as an aide. Soon, a position opened full-time. At the time, I was so scared to make the jump! But I thought that there is something telling me that I need to do this.
I started as an assistant activities director in [a large] nursing and rehab. It hit me that I was seeing people who have had full lives and homes… and I wanted to provide them with something new, new life, and to remember and honor who they are.
What was the biggest difference you found in moving from a corporate environment to an independent and family-owned community?
The openness to try new things, and hearing, “Let’s try that!”
I love that I’m in a community that is family owned. If I’m thinking of something that can benefit residents, it’s nice to know the community is centered on their individual wants and needs. We really know the residents here.
How is your work as activities director different in each of the three neighborhoods: assisted living, memory care, and skilled nursing and rehabilitation?
Each area is so different and each one offers something so fulfilling. I love working with all of them.
In assisted living, you’re interacting with a population that has most of the same abilities of the general population. You get to know them, and they get to know you. You have those inside jokes and see each other for who you are.
Skilled nursing [programs] are a lot of fun and we get really silly! It’s great. I love working with residents there.
In memory care, I focus on activities as therapeutic. A lot of times there is heightened anxiety [with dementia]. You really have to approach it in a different way.
What is your approach to memory care?
I am a Certified Dementia Practitioner and that training… about the beginning stages of dementia, how to prolong [cognitive function], and the sensory piece, is really great.
But, that’s not necessarily the reality of a memory care neighborhood. Many people are in the later stage and don’t always have the words to communicate. And, when you go through all of the senses, sight and hearing may be impaired, and even touch. They might not understand how to hold something or be able to hold it physically because of arthritis.
What I see is that they are completely able to sense energy, this feeling that you can get from one person to the next, without words. That’s what I’ve witnessed and tried to encapsulate with my staff, and it makes all the difference. When you’re going in there you have to release all of your stuff from the day and really be present with them and experience that same moment.
What’s your favorite thing about your job?
Interacting with the residents. I just love hanging out with them. I love being “on.” I enjoy all of it. It’s fun!
What is your biggest challenge right now?
Now we’re getting back in the swing of things [after initial COVID restrictions], and it’s remembering… how did I do that? Where did I put those decorations? We’re planning for a great year.
What is your favorite event to coordinate?
I really love doing a happy hour with entertainment. Sometimes one of us becomes the entertainer! It’s also being able to share special moments. At Christmas time when we were working with Santa [Editor’s Note: Santa Jim, with whom gift giving is coordinated yearly for a local family in need], getting the gifts and wrapping them with residents – that was a lot of fun!
What inspires you?
The residents here inspire me. What is it that they looked at in their kitchens? What is it that they listened to or watched on TV? What are the different events that happened in their lives? They are living history. I want to help make them happy.
Every day we [in activities] are the ones who “bring the happy!” Whether it is to the residents or to the rest of the staff, we are the ones. That makes a huge difference to me.
If you could tell people one thing about what it’s like to work here, what would it be?
It’s rewarding. Every smile that you get… it definitely fills my heart so, so much.
What do you like to do outside of Sunnyside Manor?
Oh, I have turned into a plant hoarder! I am now a rescuer of plants when I see them at a flea market or a yard sale. I also try to get out and experience different things throughout our state, and several months ago I got to go to Key West. So, a little bit of travel. But mostly, it’s the plant hoarding!
We have full calendars each month for Independence ‘Plus’ assisted living, Recollections Memory Care, and Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation. Plus, see more of our activities and life at Sunnyside Manor in our photo gallery.
Learn More About Why Families Rely On Sunnyside Manor
When it is time to make decisions about senior living, we are here to help. Sunnyside Manor offers assisted living, memory care, and skilled nursing and rehabilitation. Learn more about Sunnyside Manor’s resources for caregivers. Whether you’re looking for short-term support or a longer-term plan, begin with our “Getting Started” guide. Please call us at 888-696-2052 to speak with a senior living expert.
Sunnyside Manor, located in Wall NJ, is the area’s premier senior living community. It features three distinctive neighborhoods: Independence ‘Plus’ Assisted Living, Recollections Memory Care, and Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation.