September 30, 2021
On a crisp, sunshine-filled early autumn day, the sounds of gentle chatter and gleeful laughs float through the treetops at Three Pillars Senior Living Communities' 295-acre park-like campus.
Nestled in a park-like, wooded setting in Dousman, Wisconsin, with the Bark River running through the heart of it, the footsteps of 36 employees are accompanied by the smooth roll of wheelchair and walker wheels gliding along the paved path that meanders through the trees and ponds. Smiles can be seen across the faces of the young and the young-at-heart as they stroll together and fill their lungs with fresh air.
Three Pillars' social worker, Michelle, and resident, Sophie, enjoy their fall buddy walk together.
Water from the nearby pond fountain creates a gentle mist as staff and residents watch a turtle mosey off his warm rock and splash in for a swim. Vibrant red, orange, and yellow leaves are just beginning to dot the trees, and a few flutter down on the people strolling along the path below. Each person who tilts their face up to feel the sun’s gentle rays can’t help but smile and bask for a moment.
Is this a page from a fairytale storybook? Nope. It’s a day in the life of a Three Pillars Senior Living Communities campus Buddy Walk!
Simple Concept; Huge Rewards
The concept is simple, but the effect is extraordinary: staff and residents partner up to enjoy a walk in the park.
Each spring and fall, employees from the community plan a much-anticipated Buddy Walk. Led by Melissa, our Recreation Services Manager, a date is picked (along with a message to Mother Nature to make it a beautiful day!), the walk route is planned, and communication is sent so staff mark their calendars.
Employees from all buildings and departments at the continuing care retirement community enthusiastically RSVP to participate. As the responses come in, Melissa tallies them up and pairs each employee with a resident from Skilled Nursing or Memory Care for the special event.
When Buddy Walk day arrives, the morning teamwork begins. Team members help mark the walking path with arrowed signs, chalk art, or festive balloons on long ribbons. Additional signs with fun, themed “conversation-starter” topics are placed periodically along the route. (For most buddy duos, conversation flows easily during the walk, but for those who like a prompt, they’re just right.)
Depending on the season, refreshing lemonade, apple cider, or other seasonal treats and beverages are set out at the community’s park pavilion, which is the turnaround point in the walk. For spring walks, fresh flowers and photo-op props are prepared at the tables in the pavilion, in anticipation of all buddies who will stop for their refreshments and a photo together before heading back. For the fall walk, which has an Alzheimer’s awareness theme, residents at our independent living community craft handmade purple flowers to give to each resident participant. With great teamwork, every detail is set up for the much-anticipated walk.
When it’s time to begin, employee volunteers show up to skilled nursing or memory care to pick up their resident buddy. Wheelchair pedals are checked, sunhats or light jackets are donned, and away they go. Sometimes, introductions are made and the bond starts to form. For others, they know each other well from past walks or working together, so it’s a happy reunion.
“As the buddy duos set out on the walking path, the conversation flows and the smiles seem to never stop.”
The weather never fails to be gorgeous, much to everyone’s delight. The photos snapped at the pavilion are transformed into beautiful keepsake certificates to commemorate the day—a copy is delivered later to each resident and employee participant to remember the happy event.
Resounding Positive Effects
To say that staff and residents look forward to Buddy Walk days would be an understatement; everyone loves the day. All involved talk about it before, during, and after the event, and it’s certainly the talk of the week.
Resident Brian enjoys the fall campus buddy walk with Chris from Dining Services.
In addition to providing an enjoyable boost to all participants’ physical, social, environmental, and even spiritual wellness, it creates long-lasting bonds that connect staff and residents on many levels. In what’s sometimes an otherwise busy environment, during a Buddy Walk there’s built-in time to talk with one another, ask questions, and learn about each other’s life story. Inside jokes, connections, and bonds are formed.
Perhaps the best outcome of all is seeing staff and residents who may otherwise never have even met now look forward to seeking each other out in the hallways. An accountant from the billing office now has a dear friend on a wing at skilled nursing, and when he goes for a lunch break, he’s sure to take his buddy’s hallway to give him a special hello.
At Three Pillars, our mission is to provide high-quality housing and services to meet the physical, social, and spiritual needs of older adults. With a bit of planning and a lot of teamwork, a twice-annual Buddy Walk does all that and so much more. It’s a tradition we’re proud of and look forward to continuing for years to come!