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Activity director position more than a job

Passion for ‘family’ drives Amy Farris

Amy Farris is serenaded by Grangeville Health and Rehabilitation resident Jerry Rothchild. Farris is the new activities director at GHR.

Photo by Lorie Palmer
Amy Farris is serenaded by Grangeville Health and Rehabilitation resident Jerry Rothchild. Farris is the new activities director at GHR.

— The words to “Blue Suede Shoes” can be heard echoing down the hallway and out the front door of Grangeville Health and Rehabilitation. Although it isn’t the voice of Elvis, the tone is sweet and husky.

“He loves to sing. This is something he does for me every day,” said GHR Activities Director Amy Farris, speaking about resident Jerry Rothchild.

Farris has worked at the facility since 2000, starting as a floor CNA. However, she was roaming the halls many years prior as her own mom, Ellen Aiken, has worked there for years.

“These people – they are all my grandpas and grandmas,” she said. “Through the years when I have toyed with applying for other jobs, it has always come down to, ‘But who will take care of my family?’ They aren’t just residents. They are my family.”

Farris was recently hired as activities director and this new job coincides with her being employee of the month at GHR. She has also worked as a bath aide and an orientation assistant for new employees.

“This is actually the second time I applied for this position,” she grinned. “I was really disappointed when I didn’t get it the first time, but I have learned the timing wasn’t right. I was needed in other areas and the best decision was made.”

The next time the vacancy was open, however, the timing was right and she was prepared.

“I took it seriously and didn’t just turn in an application. I had a cover letter, a resume, letters of recommendation,” she said. Most importantly, perhaps – she had a plan.

“I didn’t just have a few ideas written down. I had details. Things I want to do and what it would take to attain those goals,” she said.

The transition has been easy, she said, but don’t be fooled: she isn’t taking the position for granted.

“I want to have activities that accommodate everyone, not just those who are mobile. And not just Bingo,” she smiled. “Oh, Bingo is important, but there are so many other things we can do.” And active they are.

She has not only handmade large-sized Bingo cards for a couple of visually-impaired residents, she has also spoken to each resident and/or their families to see what they like or do not like.

At least one morning a month, Farris can be seen rubbing lotion on hands, softening cuticles and painting nails. Some come into a room adjacent to the dining room for the treatment while for others she takes a cart to their room. And the treat isn’t just for women, either.

“I have one man whose thumbnail I paint green as a reminder of his wife and her favorite color,” she said.

Some residents she coaxes down the hall for morning coffee, while others like to participate in traditional crafts, treat making or gardening. She also takes some residents shopping for everyday items such as hairspray.

And then there’s Rothchild. He loves to sing. It doesn’t take much to get him to participate in his favorite pastime.

“I have a lot of women to keep happy,” he smiled in-between songs.

Farris said her goal is to bring meaning to each activity.

“I don’t want to just do busy work – I want what these people do to have some sort of significance to their day, to their life.”

Planning is under way for Grangeville Police Chief Morgan Drew to host “Coffee with a Cop” at GHR once a month and Farris also plans to bring in some outside instrument and vocal groups through churches and schools.

“Ginny Cash plays rocking piano on Thursdays and the people absolutely love it,” she said. “I want more activities like that. Not everyone here can get out, so we need the community to come in.” Others also come in to play and sing, and Farris said she appreciates their dedication.

Although her job is Monday through Friday and assistant Marilyn Deardorff is on task for the weekends, Farris’ mind doesn’t stop working Friday afternoons.

“I see or think of ideas all the time,” she said. “I also have a great support system here and get lots of ideas from employees and family and friends.”

Farris’ own twin daughters, who are sophomores at Grangeville High School, cut their teeth at GHR, racing down the hallways in their walkers.

“They were pushing residents in their wheelchairs to the dining hall when they were in third grade,” Farris smiled. Now, they come in as they can and volunteer their time helping with manicures.

As Farris continued her day last Wednesday, Rothchild had switched to the lyrics of another Elvis original: “Yeah yeah, little sister don’t you do what your big sister done…”

Farris bent down and whispered in his ear,”Jerry, it’s probably a good thing I didn’t have a little sister. I might not have been a very good example.”

The singing stopped long enough for a knowing smile before he continued, “Yeah, little sister don’t you do what your big sister done.”


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