Receiving the award

By Cheri Shelhart

Don Gatlin (right) drove from Indianapolis to present the LeadingAge Indiana 2020 Emerging Leader Award to Karre Parker (second from right). Dana Nunnamaker (second from left) nominated her for the award. Also pictured is Rosemary Weeks, vice president of operations at Oak Grove Village, who along with staff and residents, is proud of Parker’s accomplishments.

DEMOTTE — With the global pandemic challenging the world, Oak Grove Christian Village’s Activities Director Karre Parker felt the challenges soon after accepting the position. Parker was nominated for the award, given through the LeadingAge Indiana organization, by co-worker Dana Nunnamaker.

In June, Nunnamaker wrote her nomination for Parker for the 2020 Emerging Leader Award, citing the challenges she faced and her hard work in conquering them, while keeping the senior residents at the retirement village active and in touch with family who couldn’t visit in person.

Parker, who is a licensed CNA, was asked to step up to the position to assist the activities coordinator, partnering with her while leaning on the coordinator’s 20+ years of expertise. Shortly afterwards though, the coordinator retired, leaving Parker to fend for herself, although she knew she could count on the staff at Oak Grove to help her any time she needed it.

Nunnamaker wrote, “The nominee is always full of energy, and she is determined to make her impact. Shortly after she transitioned into her new role she faced her first of what would be many obstacles; our tenured activities staff (member) who would be her partner in the department decided to retire. Fortunately, we were able to find a replacement soon thereafter and both the nominee and the facility regained some renewed optimism about the direction of the department.“

Then COVID hit, and the new replacement had to leave because her children were out of school and at home. Parker stepped up to the challenges, including learning as much as she could about communications through the use of iPads and then imparting her knowledge to the seniors who would be using them.

Parker said we all have God-given gifts, and her gifts are creativity and problem solving, and she believes this is why she was placed in the position. “I had no idea what I was getting into,” she said. “I had to look at how best to serve the seniors to the best of my ability and teaching my team members.”

Learning new technology was most important to allow the residents to have contact with their families. They started out with face to face communications then moved onto using Zoom, where more family members could face time with their parents or grandparents.

Small group activities were halted after the pandemic struck, and Parker had to come up with new ideas to keep the residents active while social distancing.

Nunnamaker’s nomination letter stated, “She committed herself to learning how to use the facilities 2 ipads and how to use both facetime and google duo apps and be so comfortable and familiar with it that so she could then explain and assist our seniors and their families with how to use this technology to keep them connected. During this time she committed herself to make herself flexible and available to stay late or come in on weekends to accommodate working families who only had availability on off hours.”

A resident who came out to observe the award presentation said, “Karre is wonderful. She cares so much for us and she has such good ideas.”

Don Gatlin, of Health Management Advisors in Indianapolis, drove to DeMotte to make the presentation, done outside by the gazebo. He has sponsored the awards for many years, and he was pleased to come to DeMotte to meet Parker and give her the award in person. Usually, the awards are given at a conference in the summer, but this year’s conference was a virtual one, and the winning nominees were named then, but the actual award had to be delivered at a later date.

When Nunnamaker learned her nomination of Parker had won, she grabbed a few residents and interrupted Parker who was leading an activity. Nunnamaker said she told the group she was interrupting the activity to deliver an important message, and she told Parker about the award.

“I was very surprised,” Parker said. “I was humbled and honored.

“When you’re passionate about what you do, it’s easy to lead. We do the best we can for our seniors during these challenging times.”

For Mother’s Day, she set up “window visits” so family could visit from the outside and still see their loved one. Before the visit was over, Parker had the families and the resident pose for a picture so each of them could have a memento of the occasion.

Small group activities have returned, but things are not back to normal yet for the residents and the staff at Oak Grove, which has managed to go through the pandemic so far with no one contracting the COVID virus, something the retirement village is proud of.

Parker credits her co-workers for their support and assistance as well as the community. Shortly after asking for help in getting the iPads and tablets for the seniors, Parker said they received a box of tablets. She said whenever she reaches out to someone in the community, if that person doesn’t have an answer, the person will refer her to someone who will. “It’s nice to be in a small community,” she said. “It shows we are all in this together.”

In closing her nomination, Nunnamaker wrote, “As her boss, I can say that she makes me proud and genuinely she inspires me. For this nominee to be brand new in her role, not only be able to hold her own but to completely shine and excel is utterly miraculous. During all of this she has been able to successfully complete her activity director’s certificate, and also complete Teepa Snow’s positive approach to care to be a certified dementia coach. Working in long-term care has always presented challenges unique to this field with ever-changing regulations, surveys, and staffing issues, but working in this arena during COVID-19 is an accomplishment that the most seasoned long-term care employees are struggling with. It is her commitment, dedication, and passion for our residents that makes me feel that she is worthy of being honored by the emerging leader award.”