Rachelle Reath is the Director of Recreation at Revera’s The Kensington Victoria Retirement Residence in Victoria, British Columbia. She has worked with Revera since December 2017.
Rachelle was born in Kamloops, British Columbia and her family moved to Victoria when she was five. She spent every summer as a kid on road trips with her parents either on her dad’s motorcycle or in her mom’s beloved cargo van. To Rachelle, there is nothing better than the open road and the limitless possibilities there. That led her to travel lots in her late teens and twenties: across Europe, Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Senegal, Hawaii and Honduras. It is hard to pick a favourite!
Rachelle and her husband have two daughters, aged six and two, who keep them very busy. They love to get out into nature whenever possible and enjoy the many amazing beaches and forest trails around Victoria. They are musicians and their house is full of instruments. Rachelle primarily plays the violin, guitar and loves to sing. She used to spend most of her extracurricular time playing and recording with local musical groups in a variety of genres including folk, country swing, chamber music, jazz and choirs – she likes it all. She also loves working in the garden, writing and reading.
What made you want to become a recreation professional? How did you know that you wanted to pursue a career in this field?
In 2007, my friend and I were looking for a bit of work in the winter. We had a little music duo and started performing at a few seniors’ residences in Victoria. We ended up playing every Monday night for several years at a local assisted living residence. When my friend moved away, my mom joined me, and we continued this gig and added many others around Victoria.
I loved working with seniors in those communities and developed some amazing friendships over the years. Spending time connecting with them through music had a big impact on me. I saw how therapeutic music could be, the benefits were always so apparent after every session, and also the importance of meaningful connection. We all need that, of course, but I saw a lack of it in so many of the seniors we worked with and wanted to do my part to fill that need in whatever way I could.
We got to know the recreation coordinators quite well in these various communities and I felt that I would love to have a job like that. I have always had diverse interests and for a long time I could not decide what profession to choose. My education was in music and psychology, but after graduating I hadn’t quite found what I was looking for. Through my work at seniors residences, I had found a path that would allow me to pursue my many interests and work with people which is something I enjoy.
I began my career in Recreation by playing music for residents in long term and palliative care. After a few months I was brought on to the recreation team and spent five years learning and working with a fabulous team of recreation professionals who put their hearts and souls into developing fun and meaningful programming. One of my coworkers was in her 70s and still passionate and committed to expanding her knowledge of the profession. My boss would sometimes quiz us by holding up a random object and ask how we would use it for programming – her point being that connections can be found in the simplest of ways. That has stuck with me ever since.
What do you enjoy about working at Revera?
There is a warm atmosphere at The Kensington. It feels like a home away from home and the residents and staff are eclectic, creative, kind-hearted and fun to spend time with. Especially since the pandemic, there is a lovely camaraderie among us all. I also enjoy being able to connect with all the great directors of recreation across the region and am regularly inspired by everyone’s creativity and innovative thinking in these crazy times.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Playing a role in our residents’ well-being and finding ways to spread a bit of joy each day. I love discovering everyone’s fascinating life histories and being able to learn and grow right alongside our residents. It is a gift to share this time with them and I am reminded of this every day.
Who is your greatest inspiration?
I am inspired by many – there are talented, creative, intelligent people everywhere you look. My Mom, Jody Paterson, is probably my biggest inspiration. Her commitment to raising people up and helping others from all walks of life without judgment has had a deep impact on me. I think my desire to work in service to others comes from her. She taught me how to stay positive and flexible in the face of adversity and it has served me well.
What sets your residence apart from others?
We are a very artistic community. We seem to attract residents and staff who have an affinity for the arts, which makes for quite a creative group of people. The residents are also extremely welcoming, encouraging and fun – this is everywhere I’m sure, but I have found residents at The Kensington to be especially so.
What is your best memory from your programs with your residents?
I have so many great memories! One that I will never forget is when we had a resident art show a few years ago. We had submissions from more than 30 residents in all different media: painting, sculpture, textiles, pottery, quilting, needlework, sewing, woodwork, glasswork, photography, poetry and calligraphy. Works were carefully labelled and displayed as they would be in a gallery, and residents enjoyed a glass of wine as they wandered the various display rooms. The building was bustling all day with residents, friends and family coming to take part.
When are you happiest at work?
When I can see that a program is providing a purposeful connection. For example, the other day we had our first gardening program of the season. A handful of garden enthusiasts and I were all getting the soil ready in our planters, chatting easily and laughing in the sunshine. Everyone was able to just relax and be themselves. When I see that happen, I know I’m onto something.
What was an unexpected or a happy surprise about working with your residents?
How willing they are to lend a hand at the drop of a hat. There is a wonderful reciprocity – we all enjoy helping each other and it feels like a true community because of that. They also always want to know how I’m doing, how my family is doing and are just generally so caring. It feels like a large extended family.
What have you learned from your residents?
That life must be savoured and one must aspire to not rush too much. This is hard for us directors of recreation! But I take it to heart and try my best to be in the moment rather than always feeling like I’m moving on to planning the next event.
What do you wish more people knew about senior living and the people who live and work there?
Working with older people is very rewarding. They are a wealth of experience and knowledge and they are full of practical advice, funny stories and proof that you can continue learning and growing at any age. Senior living is dynamic, it changes based on who lives in a community and it is all about supporting people so they can live the way they want to. Our staff work hard and put a lot of heart and soul into creating a safe and caring home for our residents.
What motivates you to come to work each day?
Spending time with the residents is always fun and there’s something new to look forward to each day. I know that what the recreation team provides makes a difference in the overall health, wellness and energy of the building.
What would residents say about the lifestyle at your residence?
What I have heard many residents say is that they feel lucky to live where they do, especially now. Many have said that they feel safe and are glad to have way more to do than they would if they were living on their own. They are grateful for the friendships they have made and for the kind and caring staff.
What is the best compliment you have received from a resident?
A resident once said that his only complaint was that there were so many interesting things to do that he didn’t know when he was going to have time to do his laundry or catch up on his reading. Another resident once said that it was clear that I put my heart into everything I do and that this made everyone feel important and special. That is motivation enough for me!