peopleCare Tavistock’s annual retreat provides residents with an opportunity to be independent, explore nature and enjoy outdoor adventures

This September, peopleCare Tavistock brought ten lucky residents to Hidden Acres Mennonite Camp and Retreat Centre, located just outside of Shakespeare, Ontario, for their 5th annual Resident Retreat. 

Each year the home’s staff and volunteers work together to prepare for the two-day event, which is put on at no cost to residents. Viewed as a vacation for residents, staff encourage everyone to express what they wish to do while away, and that’s how the activities are planned. Everyone gets involved to make sure the retreat goes off without a hitch, from dietary assisting with the groceries, to environmental preparing the bedding and supplies, to the pharmacy and nursing teams for preparing medications, to the recreation team who do the planning and implementation. The end result of the team’s collaboration is a hugely successful retreat that has become a favourite among staff and residents alike.   

Held in a lodge that can accommodate all of the residents and staff in one building, the fully-accessible retreat centre provides everything that the group could ask for, including a great outdoor space with a pond and campfire pit. Staff and residents sit at a table in the lodge playing cards, smiling.

“It’s so nice and quiet, that’s why I like going,” said one resident who has attended for the last two years. “It’s so nice just sitting down and eating meals with the staff – that doesn’t happen at the nursing home, and it’s very nice, all of us just being together.”

The retreat also provides residents with a sense of adventure, escape and relaxation, and for some it even rejuvenates their ambition to explore and trust in their own independence. 

“What I love about this retreat is that it allows our residents to make their own choices about their schedule for a change,” said Jenn Kairies, director of programs at peoplecare Tavistock. “They get to decide what time they want to eat their meals and snacks, when to go to bed and get up in the morning, which activities they want to do and the times they wish to do them at. They live by set schedules every other day of the year so at the retreat, we make sure we are truly catering to their wishes.”

“I have never had such a good night’s sleep in all of my life!” exclaimed Bea, one of the residents who attended this year’s retreat. 
Resident Pearl sits outdoors in her wheelchair with a baby goat in her lap, smiling
 And given no time restraints, Kairies has noticed that residents are also able to complete tasks with more independence and self-confidence. For example, those who have required assistance with tasks such as dressing and toileting are often independent with these tasks during the retreat. 

“We are surprised year after year that many residents who require assistance with eating on a regular basis are able to eat independently given no time restraints,” said Kairies. And she’s not the only one who has noticed the change the event has had on residents, including those with more complex medical issues such as dementia.

“We brought one resident in particular who tends to have negative interactions with other residents, which was a tough choice for us,” said Tammy Smith, a recreationist at the home. “The staff were second guessing if we should bring her along due to her exit-seeking and responsive behaviours. But when we were there, we were just blown away at how completely ‘in her element’ she was, and she had no signs of any problematic behaviour the entire trip.” 

Along with peopleCare Tavistock, each year Caressant Care’s Maples Home for Seniors also participates in the retreat. The homes initially decided it would be great to do a joint retreat to allow residents the chance to make new friends, while staff could share resources. This year they were also happy to include residents and staff from peopleCare Golden Years in Cambridge, who joined the group for one afternoon as part of their own day trip. 

Along with sitting on the covered porch overlooking the pond, the residents enjoyed many card games, crafts, a movie, and a campfire where the group roasted marshmallows, made smores and hot dogs. All of the activities at the retreat are chosen by the residents attending, and for the most part unscheduled. 
A group of residents and staff sit outside in a circle while one of the staff tend to a campfire in the center

Crucial to the success of the retreat are the staff who volunteer their time through the night to attend to residents as needed. Some volunteers come out to help in the kitchen, with barbecuing, or just to hang out with the residents. An important thing that the recreation team has learned over the years is the importance of taking the time to relax alongside the residents. Having heard directly from residents that all they really want to do is sit outside, enjoy the scenery and relax, staff have taken their lead and enjoyed the same things right along with them. 

“As program staff, relaxing with residents isn’t easy for us because we are so used to being constantly on-the-go, programming, planning, and so on,” said one of the home’s recreationists, Stacey Leis. “But I quickly learned the value of being able to spend more quality time with our residents and just how great of a bonding experience it is. This was my first year attending the retreat it was just amazing to see how settled the residents were outside of their routine and how much bonding took place over such a short time span.” 

The residents are thankful and appreciative for the opportunity to go on what they call their vacation, year after year. The home says that many of the residents can’t stop talking about how much fun they had and thanking the team for including them in the opportunity. 

In photos, top to bottom: Staff and residents play cards together; one of the residents, Pearl, has a visit with a baby goat; a group of residents and staff enjoy a campfire.