Reaffirming the Culture Change Commitment with The Pioneer Network

The group of 18 Schlegel Villages ambassadors that attended the Pioneer Network Conference in Colorado in July were a mix of veteran team members and leaders, new team members who joined the Villages during the height of pandemic measures, as well as a kind-hearted resident, Doug, and his daughter Elaine. 

The Schlegel Ambassadors in Denver for the Pioneer Network Conference. The annual event, which returned this year to an in-person networking conference as it was always meant to be, draws hundreds of like-minded culture change agents together to discuss how to shape a “culture of aging that is life-affirming, satisfying, humane and meaningful.” Since Schlegel Villages first began soaking up the Pioneer Network’s culture change philosophy and teachings through the annual conference in 2011, it has proven to be a leader in the movement. COVID-19 may have moved care providers to prioritize infection prevention and control and a clinical, medicalized approach over a more social model of living, but the pandemic couldn’t reshape the values at the core of the culture change movement.

To be among care providers from different corners of the world who all share this philosophy reaffirmed that Schlegel Villages, despite the frustrations so many have felt since early 2020, remains committed to the path towards ongoing change.

“Culture change is very important to me,” says Brendan Cater, who had never heard of the Pioneer Network until his name was put forth as a possible ambassador for the 2022 conference. He’s been a recreation team member at The Village of Sandalwood Park for short time, but has proven that his innate understanding of approaches to care are in line with the values of the movement.

At the conference, he felt he was among others who understood what his vision for the future of eldercare could be.

“I loved being around all those people who had the same vision as me and the same values, but are much more experienced and much more knowledgeable than I am,” Brendan says. “I haven’t been in this field very long, so these were people who want the same things as me but know so much more. There was a lot to learn and lot to take away.”

He says one of his great takeaways was the recognition that any transformational journey towards true, resident-directed support takes time, and the concept of “citizenship” for all residents must be at the centre of such decisions.

“It’s a long journey and an ongoing journey,” says Brendan, who is excited to transition to a new role in the Village as a resident support coordinator, leaning on his training as a social service worker.

For Terry Milford, who joined Schlegel Villages as the Director of People Development in mid-2020 during the early chaotic development of the COVID-19 crisis, she was struck by the overall “spirit” of the event. At its core, the Pioneer network spirit, as Terry sees it, is a “baseline of treating others as humans and taking care of others.” The seniors’ living sector has the attention of the public more today than it seems it ever has, and the responsibility to help lead progressive change is something Schlegel Villages take seriously.

As Villages look to the future at a time when uncertainty over COVID-19 still weighs heavy, the spirit and intent of the Culture Change mission is as important as it has ever been.