Reflections on the 19th Annual Pioneer Conference

Schlegel Villages continues its commitment to ongoing education

By Kristian Partington

Since 2011 Schlegel Villages has been stoking the fires of culture change in the hearts of natural leaders within the villages by investing in education through the annual Pioneer Network Conference, held every summer in a different U.S. city.

As Margaret Stinson explains: “The Pioneer Network was formed in 1997 by a small group of prominent professionals in the United States to advocate for person-centered care. The group called for a radical change in the culture of aging so people thrive, not decline. This movement, away from institutional models to more humane consumer-driven models that embrace flexibility and self-determination, came to be known as the long-term care Culture Change movement.”   

Schlegel Ambassadors sitting around a table at the conference for a meal

Margaret and her husband, Ivan, were among the group of ambassadors that travelled to New Orleans in August to attend the organization’s 19th gathering. They could see how this event has evolved from its original small group of pioneers to a top-tier conference welcoming hundreds of people from around the world, all in the name of, as this year’s theme suggested, Revolutionizing the Culture of Aging.

As active and involved residents at the Village of Arbour Trails in Guelph, Margaret and Ivan offer a unique perspective on the culture change movement. In a presentation given to her village leadership team, she shared that perspective along with her commitment to continuing her efforts to improve the lives of her fellow elders. 

“At the conference, a number of applicable, wide-ranging learning opportunities were available,” Margaret says. “Because loneliness and depression continue to be serious mental health concerns in residential care communities, sessions were available to address that concern.”

She pointed out that Arbour Trails has a few different programs that help alleviate these potential stresses, most notably the Java Music Club, Java Mentorship and the regular neighbourhood socials.

Like Margaret, the team members who attended did so with a deep sense of commitment to the cause. Julia Rhinelander from Fairview Nursing Home and Sharon Bell of Erin Mills Lodge both represented the two latest homes to become part of the Schlegel family. Their experience at the conference not only taught them more about the culture change movement as a whole, but they also learned where the Schlegel philosophy fits in.

“Prior to the conference, my understanding of culture change was vague or very, very limited,” Julia says. “Now, I am more empowered and confident to perform my role and be a voice in my home. The Conference helps to sharpen my knowledge and gives me added skills or tools to support my team members who may be struggling in other aspects of transitioning.”

She points out that in every session she attended presenters stressed the importance of partnership, connectedness and collaboration as the three pillars of any culture change endeavour.

For Sharon, the concept of culture change prior to the conference was just wordplay. “Attending the conference,” she says, “has given me motivation, extended family (of fellow ambassadors) for support and ways to move further in what we already do.”

This motivation and inspiration is why for six years now, Schlegel Villages has invested in these ambassadors, for they return as the next group to fuel ongoing improvements in the way people are supported.

Julia says her goal now is “to educate and empower our residents to get on board the culture change wagon. “Their voices and opinions matter,” she says “and a move to a long-term care home is not a final stage of life but a beginning to a new chapter of life.”