Variety of activities keep care center residents engaged under new director

Patti Carpenter

With a new activities director, Nicole Hilzendeger, on board, residents at New Horizons Care Center are being afforded many new opportunities to participate in a wide variety of fun activities.

Hilzendeger was promoted to her new position as activities director in December. Previously, Hilzendeger worked as an activities aide at the care center for five years. Already, she has seized the opportunity to implement many new fun activities into the already expansive program.

“I just love feeling that I’m making a difference in the residents’ lives,” she said. “Seeing the joy in their faces every day when I tell them what’s going on in activities that day makes it all worth it.”

One of the new activities Hilzendeger introduced is a pet therapy program. The pet program began in January. She said it’s the first time the care center has hosted such a program, and so far, it’s going very well.

“People bring in their pets and go around and visit all the residents,” she explained. “So far, it’s been really wonderful, and the residents love it.”

Most of the pet visitors to date have been dogs. She said there have been no cats so far, but they would be welcomed. A few of the more interesting visitors included two baby goats. Hilzendeger added that she spoke to someone recently who offered to bring their miniature pig for a visit.

Earlier this month Hilzendeger introduced a meal-of-the-month program. As part of the program, residents vote for a special meal, and the aides cook the meal and sit down for lunch with them. Residents who are able are offered the option to help prepare the meal. 

A men’s breakfast was held last month for the first time. Hilzendeger said, since there are fewer men in the care center population, they seemed to enjoy the extra attention.

“It’s just for male residents,” she explained. “I think it was really beneficial for the men because having something like that just for them made them feel very special.”

Hilzendeger said she is hoping to hold the breakfast once a month.

The activities program recently introduced a women’s spa day at the center. Hilzendeger said, as a special treat to the ladies, spa day offers makeup and facials for anyone interested in addition to the normal weekly offerings that include rolling hair and manicures. Hilzendeger said she and her staff of three aides perform the services themselves. The aides are available to roll and comb hair four times per week. Manicures are offered once a week. Hilzendeger said she and her aides are trained to roll hair but local hairdressers come into the center for haircuts. She added that she would like to offer spa day at least once a month.

“The ladies really look forward to this. It’s so cute, and it makes them feel so good,” Hilzendeger said. “Sometimes we have a line out the door of ladies waiting to get their hair done. It really makes them happy, which is awesome.”

Hilzendeger currently has three aides on staff who assist with daily activities.

“I actually started this position with myself only,” Hilzendeger said. “I built my team from zero to four now. It was kind of a unique experience that I got to choose my team.”

Hilzendeger said, it worked out well because with all new people she got to “start from scratch.”

Bingo is by far one of the most popular activities at New Horizons.

“The residents just love their Bingo. They really love it,” said Hilzendeger.

To make things more interesting, Hilzendeger has set up a “Bingo store” where game winners can use “Bingo bucks” to purchase prizes.

“When they win they get a Bingo buck and at the end of the month they can take their Bingo bucks to the Bingo store and buy something of their choice,” she explained.

Bingo games are offered three days per week and last about an hour. Hilzendeger said she thinks the game is popular because it’s something most can do without a lot of struggle.

Another popular on-going activity is called “armchair travel,” where residents can travel abroad virtually to exotic locations and other parts of the United States. Hilzendeger said the virtual experience includes travel to the location via televised programs and includes snacks that would typically be found in that state or country.

“We project the video on a large screen in the multi-purpose room,” explained Hilzendeger. “I like to start off with the flight.”

Other on-going activities include morning exercise like beach volleyball or kickball, monthly birthday parties and holiday celebrations. Hilzendeger said she is already planning “summer outings” for the residents, which may include a fishing excursion, a trip to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody and shorter drives for people who can’t comfortably participate in longer trips. Hilzendeger said those shorter trips might include a drive around town or to the nearby hometowns of residents or to the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range.

Before landing her first job as an activities aide at NBHH, Hilzendeger worked as a receptionist at Powell Valley Healthcare.

“I didn’t mind the job, but I felt like I was doing the same thing every day, and it wasn’t fulfilling to me,” she said.

She then worked for about a year as a home health aide. She found she enjoyed working with her elderly client and liked working in the health care field, but the hours were not consistent, prompting her to seek out other opportunities. When she saw an ad for an activities aide at New Horizons Care Center, she thought it would be a perfect match. 

Her instincts were correct.

“I love my job so much, and I really love working with the residents,” she said.