Ventana’s Humor Club Helps Seniors Battle Isolation

Elderly man in suit laughing

“A joyful heart is good medicine; but a broken spirit dries up the bones.” – Proverbs 17:22

With that Bible verse, Chaplain David Mann officially kicked off the first Ventana by Buckner Humor Club.

More than two dozen senior adults crowded around their phones, tablets and computers for the video conference Mann set up. The use of technology allowed Ventana Members to continue to isolate in their apartments during the coronavirus pandemic.

The 30-minute club consisted of jokes, anecdotes, humorous stories, embarrassing moments and joyful praises.

Mann’s first story was one told to him by a resident at another senior living community. The story dated back to when the resident was just a boy, and his mother gave him and his brother the task of deodorizing the outhouse before their relatives arrived for a party. The boys masked the odor with the strongest scent they could think of – gasoline.

They poured more than a gallon of gasoline down below the outhouse. However, they forgot one important detail. After a big meal, their grandfather always liked to smoke his pipe while in the outhouse. When Grandpa knocked a few embers from his pipe down below, the results were explosive, knocking all four walls down and leaving Grandpa in shock and scrambling to pull up his pants.

elderly woman laughing

As Ventana Members laughed at the story, the video conference picked up on their audio and the central image jumped around to show the amused faces.

A string of knock-knock jokes from Mann ensued – some elicited laughter, some groans, but the intent was enjoyed by all.

“Knock, knock.”

“Who’s there?”

“A little old lady.”

“A little old lady who?”

“Wow! I didn’t know you all could yodel!”

elderly man laughing

One Member chuckled as she talked about the giant ears of the new kitten she was adopting. Another Member told the story of how her uncommon first name resulted in a military draft notice and an uncomfortable conversation with the Draft Board about her gender.

Laughs were shared by all, and the Ventana Humor Club ended with a prayer by Mann offering thanks for the ability to connect with family and friends via modern technology and share some love and humor: “During a time of uncertainty, we are always certain of Jesus’ love.”

Chaplains Adopt Creative Ways to Share Hope in Shadow of the Coronavirus

By Russ Dilday

Chaplain John BenderThe LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.

Chaplain John Bender recites Psalm 23, ageless words of comfort in times of fear or threat. As he pauses, he looks up to his listeners, residents of Buckner Parkway Place in Houston. A single camera lens stares back at him. He’s delivering his message on Parkway Place’s closed-circuit television system.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Like each chaplain at all six Buckner Retirement Services Communities, Bender is seeking creative ways to share messages of faith, hope and comfort in the wake of social distancing measures in response to the coronavirus.

Since the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic began to take shape in the United States, Americans have responded with measures that range from social distancing to canceling large-scale gatherings to even city-wide lockdowns.

Nowhere have these safety measures been more critical than among the senior adult population, deemed by most health-related entities as the group most at risk for contracting the coronavirus.

Buckner, following standards set by the Center for Disease Control and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, took quick action to ensure the health of residents and staff, limiting outside access to only essential health care providers as well as promoting distance between each resident internally.

While the safety strategies created distance from potential harm, they also created distance from residents’ churches, community worship meetings and each other for groups larger than 10. It’s a situation that might seem to lessen residents’ hope, but the chaplains are fighting the coronavirus threat in their own unique way – from the soul.

“I have encouraged residents to read Psalm 23 every day because of its familiarity as well as the message that God is walking with us,” Bender said.

Spreading message of hope and comfort is key to reinforcing residents’ faith, he said.

“Each conversation I have is salted with the concept that ‘We have faith in our God. This crisis did not catch him by surprise.”

Chaplain Daniel Carpenter of Buckner Calder Woods in Beaumont echoed Bender’s approach.

“I have spoken to several people about the sovereignty of God. I also try to get them to think of all the ways God has provided for them and protected them up to this point,” he added. “And I’m talking a lot about anxiety. I’ve been using Philippians 4 as a launching point to talk to them about faith and the presence of Jesus in their lives.”

But to reach their flocks, the group must come up with creative ways to spread that word and meet constituents’ needs.

“We normally have two to three people from our campus in the hospital every day and I typically visit them there, but now the hospital, as of today, has limited their visitation and I can no longer go to see them,” said Chaplain Kevin McSpadden of Baptist Retirement Community in San Angelo. “Now I just call our residents and talk with them over the phone.”

He noted that while the independent living Sunday morning chapel service has been canceled, he recently learned how to broadcast live services on YouTube and will be using that technology to reach residents.

“I still do a worship service and a sit-down Bible study at our Sagecrest Alzheimer’s facility,” he said. “Both of the open area pods at Sagecrest are very large and we literally spread the people out and go on with our services. At both Sagecrest and The Crest, volunteers can no longer come in to help me with the music, but I manage to make everything work with music on my laptop.”

David Mann, chaplain for Ventana by Buckner in Dallas, also adopted the “spread out” social distancing approach, modified even further by the 10-person-per-room limit.

“Yesterday’s worship service was interesting here at Ventana,” he explained. “We signed up the members who wanted to attend in increments of 10 and had four worship services, at 2:30, 3, 3:30 and 4. Needless to say, I was very tired afterward and our poor pianist was exhausted as well.”

Rick Webb, chaplain for Buckner Westminister Place in Longview, acknowledges the importance of smaller chapel services since many churches have had to cancel services.

“I am leading it myself – music and message – so no outside person is engaged,” Webb said, noting he is taking additional precautions to lessen the possibility of exposure to residents. “I am limiting my life to Buckner and home and no other people than Westminster Place and my family.”

In addition to altering his personal life, Webb is also adapting technology to reach his residents.

“The technology is being adapted so I can post devotionals and encouragement to the residents via the in-house cable television system. Along with that medium, I have repeatedly given them my cell phone number as an on-call resource and encourage them to call.”

Carpenter has also been playing guitar and singing for residents who can’t leave their rooms and to help calm nerves heightened by isolation or fear.

“There is a spectrum of response here,” Carpenter said. “Many residents are starting to get cabin fever, but some of them like being isolated. Some are sitting at their doors in the hallway so they can talk to neighbors across the hall. Some are fearful. Most are understanding (of the safety measures that have been put into place).”

In addition to ministry to residents, each chaplain noted their ministries seek to reach staff members as well.

Mann encouraged Ventana associates to continue living out the Buckner Retirement Services mantra of “Inspiring happiness” while serving others.

Mann shared a prayer with the group and reminded them that “as we become open to each day at hand, and its challenges, may we remember that we are called and equipped (every position is a sacred vocation); may we step forward with a non-anxious presence and seek to learn, teach, and lead by example. May the Holy Spirit grant us abundant resource for the journey!”

“I have been going around visiting with staff, listening to them and empathizing where I can,” echoed Carpenter. “A lot of them are anxious too, so I try to calm their fears and cheer them up. I have also offered to help them in any way that I can if they seem stressed.”

Ministering to staff, though, also includes time to renew and minister to themselves and their families amid their own concerns.

“It’s definitely causing some stress and anxiety in my home,” Carpenter said. “I have two young boys and a third boy on the way. The hovering threat of a shelter-in-place scenario is a frequent concern. My wife is due in 10 weeks, so the thought of being separated from them for up to eight weeks is not a pleasant one.”

“The only thing that has made a change in my life is the unknowing of if or when we will go into on-campus quarantine” said Bender. “The ministry has not changed here other than it is a more focused work. But the unknowing of if I will return home at night has an impact on my family.”

Jennie at the airport

Two Buckner Villas residents attend All Women Honor Flight

welcoming a veteran at the airport

What comes to mind when you think of Veterans Day? For some, it may be the image of a father or grandfather courageously fighting for freedom. Maybe it’s media portrayals of battle scenes from war movies and television shows. Perhaps you reminisce on your own memories of service— from basic training, to combat, to writing loved ones back home.


Or, do you envision a nurse working tirelessly to aid wounded soldiers in the operating room? How about a young woman from Toledo, Ohio, facilitating background investigations for security clearances? For Donna Whitworth and Jennie Rose of Buckner Villas in Austin, Texas, these were their realities. Humble servicewomen though they were, their impact and contribution to our nation is immeasurable.

 Donna Whitworth

Donna Whitworth spent most of her growing up in the Houston area and graduated from Baylor University’s nursing school. Coming from a military background, Whitworth always knew she wanted to serve her country, and after working two years as a nurse, she decided to enlist in the military. 


“My daddy had served in the Navy and I had grown up with movies like Strategic Air Command, so I decided to go with the Air Force. I entered as a First Lieutenant,” she said.

Whitworth was stationed at Vandenburg Air Force Base in California where she served as an operating room nurse during the Vietnam era. Because the United States had begun to withdraw overseas at the time, Whitworth served stateside for the duration of her service.

“I worked on active military personnel and their families and I had a great bunch of doctors to work with. I really enjoyed my time there and felt like I was making a contribution to my country,” she said.

Although Whitworth had a positive experience in the military, she admits that times have certainly changed for women in active service.

“Nurses were always appreciated and acknowledged by the doctors, but I think now women have so many more choices of what to do. So many jobs have opened up that were not available when I was there,” she said.

Just a few years earlier, a young Jennie Rose from Toledo, Ohio, had a similar fervor to serve her country that landed her in the United States Navy.

Jennie Rose

“I’d always envied people who could serve. Everyone in my family had served in the military somehow. As soon as I was old enough, I enlisted,” Rose said.

Rose was stationed at Great Lakes Communication Facility in Illinois where she ran background investigations for military personnel during the Korean War.

“I didn’t have what some might call an ‘exciting’ career,” she claimed. “But I enjoyed it and I met a lot of wonderful women who were doing the same thing.”  

Due to certain policies at the time and a denied request to be transferred to her husband’s base, Rose eventually stepped down from her position in the Navy; however, as the wife of a sailor, her military journey was far from over.

“My job in the Navy prepared me for a lot of things. By the time I married and started moving around with my husband, I already knew what it was like to travel from place to place” she said.

Because her husband was attached the National Security Agency, she and her family also had to be prepared for evacuation at any given time, particularly when they lived in Japan and Germany. Though stressful at times, Rose feels her experiences gave her a unique perspective.

“Having the opportunity to live in different places and experience different cultures, we lived a lifestyle of patriotism,” she said.

Years later, Whitworth and Rose both found themselves residents of Buckner Villas in Austin, Texas. It was there that they were presented with the opportunity to receive recognition for their service through Honor Flight Network, an organization that transports veterans from across the country to visit war memorials in Washington D.C.

Whitworth heard about the organization through Anna Gatti, fellow Buckner Villas resident and World War II veteran, who had previously attended an Honor Flight and insisted that Whitworth needed to go.

Rose was recommended by her daughter, a resident of Austin, Texas, who volunteers with Honor Flight Austin through an organization called Overseas Brats. As soon as the opportunity arose to travel on the All Women Honor Flight #54 last month, Whitworth and Rose knew they couldn’t turn it down.

From boarding the plane to landing in D.C., to returning home, the women veterans received a once-in-a-lifetime experience and the utmost appreciation from the community. Each veteran was even assigned a guardian, comprised of volunteers committed to assisting the women for the duration of the trip.

Austin resident, Ronna Robbins, attended the trip as a guardian and was paired with Rose. As someone who is not a veteran, she explained that traveling on the All Women Honor Flight was a humbling experience. 

“It was such an honor to give back and thank these women. They faced a lot of challenges when they served—low pay, no benefits, and sometimes poor housing. It’s an emotional experience to get to be a part of their bond, even for a little while,” she said.

Whitworth and Rose, like so many other women veterans—past and present—are a shining example of courage and patriotism. Thanks to organizations like Honor Flight Austin, their contributions don’t go unrecognized. When asked if they would recommend the Honor Flight to other veterans, the answer was a resounding, “yes!”

“It’s an experience you’ll never forget,” Whitworth said.

A Miracle in Disguise

seniors smiling

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Jerry Jefferson, member of Baptist Retirement Community in San Angelo, TX, shared a little bit of her story with us. 

The day that Jerry Jefferson went in for her regular mammogram 25 years ago looked like any other day. Little did she know, a miracle was in the works.

“Miracle” isn’t a word typically associated with a breast cancer diagnosis, but when her physician requested a follow-up mammogram revealing a lump in one of Jefferson’s breasts, a miracle is exactly what took place.

The decision was made to remove the small lump, which turned out benign; however, upon examining the tissue, Jefferson’s doctor found an additional spot which had evaded the mammogram. This time it was cancerous.

“I just praise God for the fact that I had the mammogram because it pointed to one thing and through that, something else was found,” said Jefferson, a member of Baptist Retirement Community in San Angelo. “I didn’t have to have treatment; instead I opted to have it removed through a mastectomy. I just wanted it gone.”

From the first mammogram until the mastectomy, the entire process spanned only a few weeks, but that didn’t make the experience any less unsettling for Jefferson. After all, no one is ever fully prepared to hear this kind of news.

“I was startled when my doctor called me, saying ‘we have a problem’,” she said. “Treatment has gotten so much better, but back then, reports were not always good.”

A 59-year-old at the time with two daughters, Jefferson credits her friends, faith and family to being strong sense of support throughout the surgery and recovery process.

“My husband was so supportive. His first words were, ‘honey that was no big thing anyway,’ and we laughed over that,” she said.

Anyone who has experienced or walked through Breast Cancer with a loved one can attest to the fact that there is no “easy” way. While everyone’s journey is different— each with its highs and lows— the thing that remains constant is the bravery of each woman who has fought the battle. That’s why we recognize women like Jerry Jefferson, who can now share her encouraging story of hope and restoration with others.

“I’m just very thankful,” she said. “I’ve had a close walk with the Lord the whole time- before and after. I think sometimes that makes things easier than if you don’t,” she said.

Her advice to women everywhere: “Be sure to have your mammograms.”

Parkway Place in Houston members bond through fitness

seniors at parkway place

Donna Stadler moved to Parkway Place with her husband in 2010 and would see Jean Hartzell in the dining room and at Sunday vespers. Donna, 88, said they became better friends after her husband passed away and she moved to a smaller apartment two doors down from Jean, 93.

As the two women learned they both enjoyed staying fit, their friendship grew.

“She was an instructor for an exercise class, and I was a physical therapist,” Donna said. “So we had a lot of common interests in fitness and in the wellness center.”

Read more about Donna and Jean’s friendship in the Houston Chronicle.

Hurricane Harvey survivor declares ‘I am blessed’ after Parkway Place rallies around his family

senior smiling after hurricane harvey

In late August 2017, Hurricane Harvey made landfall across southeast Texas, leaving a trail of damage, loss and destruction in its wake. For several days following the storm, flooding overtook much of the area, forcing many to abandon their homes and possessions.

Daniel Madison, a utility worker at Buckner Parkway Place, was one victim of Harvey’s wrath. With only the clothes on his back, his wife and a small bag, Madison found refuge somewhere most would never think to look: his place of employment.

“My wife and I stayed at Parkway Place for two months until we got back on our feet,” he said. “Everyone did what they could to make things easier for us and make us comfortable. I was blessed.”

The senior living community’s hospitality toward Madison was simply an added benefit. His motivation to be there, however, was not to seek his own comfort. It was to serve others.

“We were short-staffed. I was just trying to get over there to help and do what I could,” Daniel said. “I knew we were needed.”

Touched by the selflessness of staff members like Daniel, the Parkway Place community decided to act. They wanted to find a way to give back to the people who had given so generously of themselves during such difficult circumstances. Aaron Mendoza, a member of Parkway Place since 2009, worked with a few others to organize a fundraising effort.

“These employees go all-out to serve us, so we felt that it was our time to help them,” Aaron said.

The task was large and proved to be more challenging than expected.

“We had to have a lot of discussions about when to give the money, how much to ask for and where to deposit it. I was a believer that we needed to do it as quickly as we could. These people needed help now, not later,” Aaron said.

With determination and a little bit of problem-solving, everything came together. The members of Parkway Place raised over $20,000 to aid staff members who had lost everything to the storm.

“I’ve always felt, all my life, that it’s better to give than to receive. I try to help people wherever I can,” Aaron said.

A year later, Daniel and his wife, recipients of the fund, have a new apartment close to Parkway Place and are doing better than ever. Though the trials of Harvey will not be soon forgotten, the love and servant-heartedness shown among members and employees at Parkway Place is more powerful than any hurricane.

“Parkway Place members are like God’s helpers. Without them, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now. They took me in and they never looked back,” Daniel said.

Written by Caitlin Heffley, content editor for Buckner Retirement Services.

San Angelo seniors kick off summer with Pinewood Derby

Residents at Baptist Retirement Community recently kicked off the summer with cars, ice cream and childhood memories.

Residents came together for fun that included a pinewood derby race and homemade ice cream contest. Smiles and laughter filled the room as the experience reminded people of their youth.

“Many of our residents did Boy Scouts when they were younger and painted their own pinewood derby cars,” Baptist Retirement Marketing Director Erin Kelly told KSAN. “So we wanted to bring back some of those memories that they had.”

The celebration is one of many activities throughout the year at Baptist Retirement, a beautifully landscaped 100-acre Life Plan Community serving seniors throughout the Concho Valley. Baptist Retirement offers independent living, skilled or long-term nursing, memory care assisted living, personal assistance program and  outpatient therapy.

Residents have access to on-site amenities such as a pharmacy, health clinic, chapel, beauty salons, a restaurant and fitness centers. BRC opened “The Crest,” spring 2016, a memory care assisted living home on campus. The Crest, Sagecrest Alzheimer’s Care Center and the Green House® Homes at Sagecrest are designed to further enhance the continuum of care for those living with memory care impairment. Baptist Retirement Community offers more senior living and life-enriching options than anywhere else in the area.

Austin seniors celebrate National Fitness Month

National Physical Fitness and Sports Month

May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, and residents at Buckner Villas are as active as ever thanks to wellness director Julia Tavasoli.

Tavasoli leads the Austin senior living community in nontraditional, but popular, exercise classes such as Aqua Fit and Better Balance. Dozens of residents attend each class, including Jim Sadler, 94, and his wife Ann, 88.

“The classes offered here at Buckner Villas are unique because they keep each resident’s fitness level in mind and offer morning and afternoon classes to fit into our schedules,” said Sadler. “Plus, the classes are so enjoyable that sometimes we forget it’s a workout!”

Aqua Fit is a challenging aquatic class which includes cardio, strength and agility, while Better Balance is an aerobics class incorporating specialized fitness equipment, coordination, drills and balance poses to improve core and leg strength. Though designed specifically for seniors, these fitness classes aren’t for the faint of heart. Residents perform exercises found at most local gym classes, including frog jumps, jumping jacks, weight lifting, push-ups and cardio intervals.

“We want residents to find a class that brings them joy, and so far, that’s exactly what we’ve seen,” said Tavasoli. “It’s rewarding for me to see them benefit from the classes both physically and mentally, especially because these group classes add an element of socialization and accountability.”

Buckner Villas recently completed a $29.8 million expansion which allows the community to serve up to 138 additional seniors. Aqua Fit and Better Balance are part of the growing number of classes held in the wellness center at the senior living community.

Tavasoli consistently incorporates new classes to provide well-rounded fitness options. Studies show that working out regularly as you age reduces the risk for developing dementia, decreases the risk of stroke or heart attack, creates better bone density and gives seniors more confidence and independence.

Faith Focus: Seeing what you didn’t before

senior citizen banquet

Last week, Buckner Senior Living and Cooper Aerobics announced a collaboration that will bring Cooper experts to the Ventana by Buckner campus in Dallas. In the process of the day, I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Kenneth Cooper and learn more about what sets him apart.

Fifty years ago, Cooper wrote Aerobics, which introduced the world to the benefits of aerobic workouts. Prior to the book, many people were discouraged to exercise after the age of 40 as experts believed it would shorten a person’s lifespan.

When Cooper’s book not only contradicted the contemporary thought, but put forward the notion that regular exercise would actually prolong health and lives, he was called a crackpot. Potential patients were steered away from him. But he stuck it out and his theories have proven true.

He’s revolutionized what it means to be healthy as we age. He’s even proving it day after day personally, having run more than 38,000 miles at the age of 87. His concepts have helped popularize the notion of each person needing to walk 10,000 steps daily. He trained a World Cup team. He has promoted healthy living around the globe.

And all that has led people to live far different lives than they once believed possible.

That struck me as extremely similar to what we do through Buckner Family Pathways and Family Hope Centers: Change individual’s and families’ perceptions of themselves and empower them to live lives they didn’t think possible.

Like Cooper’s efforts, the work of changing someone’s long-held beliefs is difficult. But just like the good doctor, we have examples we can point to where lives have been transformed. Single parents who have graduated from college. Families that are strong and raising amazing young people. Cycles of poverty that have been broken.

The impossible is possible – even in your life.

Do you believe it?

Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you. –Matthew 17:20

Five ways to pray for senior adults

senior woman sitting in chair

Thursday, May 3, is the National Day of Prayer. Here are five ways you can pray for senior adults.

1. People

Pray that senior adults are surrounded by people who love and encourage them. Whether from friends in the same life stage or everyday relationships like the grocer and banker, simple conversations often make all the difference in a senior’s quality of life.

2. Purpose

Pray that seniors have a clearly defined sense of purpose. Senior adults need to know they still add value. For some, this purpose comes from volunteering. For others, it comes from family and friends. Pray that seniors find what they love and have opportunity to pursue it.

3. Peace

Pray that seniors have the peace they need to handle change. Change is a regular part of life for senior adults, be it in personal physical health, a loved one’s health or in friendships. Pray they find comfort in friends and family, but also find peace and strength in the Lord.

4. Plans

Pray that seniors and their families have the necessary wisdom to make long-term care decisions should the need arise. It can often be difficult to have conversations planning for potential future needs, but having a plan in advance makes any future transition easier.

5. Positivity

Pray that senior adults have a positive outlook on life. A sense of positivity can have a dramatic impact on all areas of wellness—physical, mental, social, emotional and even spiritual. Pray that they see the good things in life, and that this positivity motivates them to maximize every moment.

For additional prayer resources, visit the chaplain at your local Buckner senior living community.

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