‘A smile and a fist bump for everyone:’ Family thanks assisted living home director

In a year full of loss, Marianne and Robert Ball appreciate their ‘extended family’ at Greenwood Place Assisted Living

There’s a positive vibe at Greenwood Place Assisted Living in Melbourne, and a feeling that things may be getting back to normal.

MELBOURNE, Fla. – There’s a positive vibe at Greenwood Place Assisted Living in Melbourne, and a feeling that things may be getting back to normal.

Last week, residents gathered under a covered outdoor patio where Lifestyles Director Karla Buck explained the rules of the game cornhole.

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“Lock up your wheels,” Buck said, pointing to one player’s walker. “You can throw it over or under,” she said, demonstrating the proper form for a toss.

The staff erupts in applause, their yells muffled from under face coverings, every time a bean bag sinks below the board.

The residents and staff have been vaccinated, making this whole scene possible, but precautions are still being taken.

“It’s been a tough year,” Greenwood Place Executive Director Cynthia Cooler said. “It was about trying to find positivity.”

That positivity is what earned Cooler and her staff the News 6 Getting Results Award.

Over the last year, Greenwood Place Assisted Living relied on video conferencing, drive by parades, doorway karaoke and bingo and even a hugging booth made of plastic sheeting. All to keep residents engaged with family and each other.

“We were watching what I call a silent killer. And it’s not COVID,” Cooler said. “The whole purpose for senior living is to offer a quality of life and making socialization readily available. Well if you’re not socializing then you’re not doing what you feel that you need to do to help.”

Marianne Ball and her husband, Robert watched it all from a distance. Ball’s parents, Jane and KJ Baker called Greenwood Place home for 12 years.

Ball nominated Cooler and the staff of Greenwood Place Assisted Living for the News 6 Getting Results Award. She wrote, “Cooler worked hard to find solutions for the challenges of COVID.”

In her Melbourne home, Ball flipped through the pages of her latest scrapbooks. “I made these for mom and dad,” she said, smiling. She pointed out photos of her parents enjoying the activities Greenwood Place had to offer.

Jane Baker, 99, passed away in January 2020, before COVID-19 spread in the U.S. Ball’s dad, Klinedale James or “KJ” , 97, passed later that year. But before that, he was forced to deal with the loss of his wife of nearly 70 years while separated from his family.

“They just did the best they could with not being able to get out of the building and nobody coming in,” Ball said, remembering the time she was able to see her dad during a drive by parade.

“It was raining and the staff was out there with umbrellas saying this is what we’re doing, our loved ones need to see family,” Ball said.

Greenwood Place would remain closed to visitors for six months. In September, Marianne Ball was finally able to visit her dad.

“I was so grateful my family was able to get in,” Ball said. “We were able to stay with him until he passed.”

Cooler credits her staff for the positive feedback.

“You can’t do it alone and sometimes the directives that you have to put out aren’t always fun. So when you have a team that understands the necessity and the magnitude of what we were going through, not looking at the negative but embracing the positive.”

“It’s just nice to be thanked and appreciated for what we do,” Buck adds. “It’s nice that people see that.”

“Unprecedented and turbulent,” Cooler said when asked what it was like to lead over the last year. “But through it all it comes back to positivity. Positivity will exude positivity.”

About the Author:

Paul is a Florida native who graduated from the University of Central Florida. As a multimedia journalist, Paul enjoys profiling the people and places that make Central Florida unique.