Certified Facilitator Spotlight:  Caroline Ryskiewich

As part of our “Certified Facilitator Spotlight” series, TimeSlips is excited to introduce and connect you to individuals doing work in the field of creative aging from many walks of life, different places around the globe and myriad vocations to highlight the breadth of work being done. This week, we are introducing you to Caroline Ryskiewich, Health Services Navigator at Croasdaile Village in Durham, North Carolina. You will see the spark of inspiration in Caroline’s work just by reading her guest blog, the same spark that has people waiting outside the door for her groups!

TimeSlips: How did you become involved in TimeSlips and what does being a Certified Facilitator do for you/ your community?

Caroline: I’ve worked with senior citizens in one capacity or another for almost 10 years and am always interested in new ways of engaging with our elderly friends. I’ll never forget my first introduction to TimeSlips. Kim, another TimeSlips facilitator in our community, invited me to come see what the program was all about (she knew me well enough to know I’d want to get involved)! As she predicted, after observing just one session I fell in love with the program and almost immediately started pursuing my certification. Being a certified facilitator gives me the training and tools to lead programs that enrich our residents’ lives in a really unique and powerful way.  It fills me with passion and purpose, which pours out into the residents in a way that’s rewarding and lifegiving for all of us. 

TimeSlips: Why work with those who have cognitive differences, such as Dementia, in your opinion?

Caroline: Senior citizens are such a marginalized population in our youth-centric society, and we see this “othering” even more prominently when it comes to those with cognitive differences. I do this work because I want to buck that societal norm! I believe wholeheartedly that every single person is a person of worth — not because of what they do, or how much they produce, or how they contribute to the world around them… but simply because they exist. Their value is inherent and irrevocable! Every single person on this earth, including those with dementia!, deserves time and attention. TimeSlips is a way for us to tell these friends “I see you. I hear you. You matter.” 

TimeSlips: Describe an “A HA!” moment in your creative engagement – – where you really saw a shift in how the elders you work with responded. 

Caroline: The majority of our 20 or so “Creative Engagers” are still residents of our Independent Living level of care, but a few come from the Assisted Living neighborhood as well. It’s incredibly powerful to see not only how each of these individuals with varying levels of cognitive differences engage not only with the activities, but with each other. It’s so fulfilling to see how every single person has adopted the “no wrong answer” mindset. When one of our more cognitively impaired residents says something unexpected or odd, I’m not the only one nodding along. The whole group is encouraging them, showing them that their answer is — however nonsensical! — perfect. I feel that a ha! moment when I look around the room and see EVERYONE nodding and smiling. It makes my heart so full that we’ve created such a safe space. Our group has become a family. 

Most things on our community’s Activities Calendar are based on a shared talent or skill: crocheting, singing, woodworking. Creative Engagements is the one place on campus where the only requirement is this: humanness. Our shared “interest” is simply shared humanity. I have residents tell me it’s the one time they feel safe, without judgement.

I invite everyone individually to each session (I put personalized “invites” in their mailboxes). When I called one of my residents to follow-up on whether she’d be coming, she said “Creative Engagements? I can’t really remember what we do there, but I do know we laugh a lot. So, sure — I’ll come back!” To me, that’s the entire meaning and purpose of what we do. 

TimeSlips: Being in healthcare, how have you let go of the stresses that come with your job? 

Caroline: I try to be extremely diligent in prioritizing and maintaining a healthy work/life balance. I know I can only do my best at work if I’m also intentional about stepping away to take care of myself. You can’t pour from an empty cup! 

TimeSlips: You have $5, transportation and a day off. What do you decide to do? 

Caroline: I would grab a book and head to the beach for the day! The $5 would be for ice cream, of course. Reading by the water is my absolute favorite pastime. (Even better if my dog can come, too!) 🙂