In Praise of the Pioneers

In 2011, a small group of people connected to Schlegel Villages travelled south from their home in Ontario to St. Charles, Missouri on the banks of the great Missouri River. They were explorers, in a way, eager to learn about a group of people that since the mid 1990s had been influencing change in the way society views aging; the annual Pioneer Network conference was were they all converged. 

"I was proud to be from Canada and even prouder to be from Schlegel Villages," says Steph Hamilton about her time at the 2019 Pioneer Network Conference.
"I was proud to be from Canada and even prouder to be from
Schlegel Villages," says Steph Hamilton about her time
at the 2019 Pioneer Network Conference.

Schlegel Villages had only recently begun its journey into the idea of a culture change and that conference in St. Charles would have a lasting impact that carries forward to this day as Schlegel Villages prepares to celebrate a decade of transformation. From St. Charles to Louisville, Kentucky in 2019, Schlegel Villages has sent teams of eager ambassadors to every Pioneer Network Conference to discover what more can be done to ensure the challenges that come with aging remain secondary to the person who is growing older.

The connections made through these conferences led to some of the key foundational relationships of the Schlegel Villages culture change movement, and the inspiration ambassadors have returned with over the past ten years have fuelled the development of some of the organization’s key philosophies.  

“It is great to see that there are so many people passionate about changing the culture of aging,” says Richard Liskauskas, who represented Schlegel Village this year in Louisville as a panelist discussing a strengths-based approach to team development. “There were approximately 800 participants from a huge variety of organizations sharing their approaches to resident-centered care and I was privileged to share on the panel.”

Not only was it valuable to meet with so many other like-minded people, he says, but the experience also reminded him of how progressive his team is when it comes to building upon the strengths of its many parts.

Like Richard, Nancy Vasile also presented this summer, focusing on the “Well-Being” approach to dementia care alongside Dr. Allen Power, a long-time influencer from the Pioneer Network who has come to work closely with Schlegel Villages since crossing paths with the organization in St. Charles back in 2011. He introduced The Eden Alternative Domains of Well-Being℠ to Schlegel Villages, encouraging team members to consider a person living with dementia as having seven domains of well-being. If a cup representing any one of those domains is less than full, they are more apt to express their dissatisfaction through sometimes challenging expressions. Nancy is a key member of the Personal Expressions Resource Team in the Village of Aspen Lake, and this approach has been instrumental in offering personalized support to residents. She was proud and honoured to share her experience at the conference.

“Seeing others from around the world in the same journey and embracing the approach for culture change, for me it filled my cups of well being as well,” Nancy says. “I can bring what I experienced at the Pioneer Network to all because my takeaway is, we are all working for the same journey: filling the cup of culture change.”

Winston Park’s Lisa Michalofsky echoes both Nancy and Richard in her praise for the experience, both in realizing the progress Schlegel Villages has made over the past decade but also in discovering new sources of inspiration.

“It was an amazing experience,” Lisa says, full of fun and learning. It was enjoyable being with like-minded and forward-thinking individuals who share the same vision and goals.”

She was reminded of the value of simplicity in her approach to service, noting that her “main takeaways or main goal is to focus on just being human and treating people the way that we want to be treated, using empathy and being vulnerable.”

The experience offered Steph Hamilton of Taunton Mills several reminders as well. “I regained focus to why I was called to this profession, to The Village, to where I am today,” Steph says. “I gained a new perspective and it definitely reignited my internal cheerleader. I gained some forever friends on this trip and I feel truly honored that I was chosen to go. I was proud to be from Canada and even prouder to be from Schlegel Villages.

“I will never forget the Pioneer Network 2019, and I wish I could go every year.”

To change the culture of aging is to put the humanity back into the care of our older citizens, treating them not as sick people to be cured but as individuals who are eager to find meaning and growth in their days, and connections with other people. The Pioneer Network has helped guide Schlegel Villages along its journey by inspiring close to 200 individual ambassadors over the past nine years, and the impact is felt every day.