The Benefits Beyond the Paycheque

Insights from dietary manager-turned-entertainer

By Kristian Partington

For those living in a retirement or long-term care setting, a high quality of life is dependent upon several people who each offer different expertise, and in many cases, many overlapping skills. Many will say the job is more than just a job – it is a vocation and for some, it is a calling.  

Close up of the side of Jimmy's face as he looks off to the left
 Jimmy the Crooner found a new calling as and entertainer for seniors.

There are practical nurses and registered ones, personal support workers, housekeepers and chefs; administrators and managers help keep things organized and recreation team members keep everyone busy. From outside, many care partners are also critical elements of this mix: doctors, pharmacists, nurse practitioners and armies of volunteers, they all have important roles to play in the lives of the residents they serve.

And then there are the entertainers, such as James Skarnikat, otherwise known as Jimmy the Crooner, who gave up his career managing the dietary needs of residents to perform songs from the 40s, 50s and 60s in long-term care and retirement communities across the country. His schedule for the year is as heavy, if not heavier, than many of the world’s top touring bands, and he says he wouldn’t trade the job for anything.

“I’ve done a lot of different things in my life but I don’t think I’ve done anything that I enjoy more than this,” James says in a phone interview not long after performing at the Villages of Taunton Mills and Riverside Glen. “I’ve worked in long-term care and retirement managing kitchens but I’ve always been a musician as well on the side, and there just finally came a point in my life about five years ago when I decided to transition toward the entertainment side.”

He began diving into his repertoire, seeking all the songs he knew that might appeal to an older audience, and then he began learning more. His first show was at a small home in Owen Sound five years ago and since then he’s travelled from coast to coast, offering music in return for thousands of smiles and the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life and backgrounds.

“It’s a heartwarming job, every day, for sure,” James says. “There is always some person that responds in a way that just shows me that it’s worthwhile bringing the smiles to the old people. I think I have the best job in the world.”

He says travelling across the country and visiting hundreds of homes each year allows him to appreciate how the sector has evolved over the years to make life better for our elders. Schlegel Villages, he says, is leading the way. 

Like so many of the care providers that work every day to enhance life quality for seniors, James brings a high level of passion to the job and that, in turn, allows him to reap benefits far more valuable than a simple paycheque.