By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — Lynn Larrabee’s mother spent nine happy, comfortable months at Ingersoll Place Assisted Living and Memory Care before she died in February.
After Larrabee, a nurse at the St. Peter’s Hospital cardiac unit, said goodbye to her mother, she realized she wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the staff at Ingersoll Place.
“It was such a part of my life, I couldn’t let go,” she said.
Naturally, she asked what she could do to help out. To her surprise, she was invited to join the board of directors. Larrabee thought she would need a background in business for the position, but was told she had everything she needed — most importantly, an understanding of the key role assisted living communities can play in a community.
Larrabee said the most important aspect of any assisted living community is the ability to make its residents feel as comfortable and happy there as in their own houses.
“It’s very difficult,” she said. “No one wants to have to leave their home.”
But home is where family is, and Larrabee said the staff became just that — to both her and her mother.
That’s why, during Assisted Living Week, an event observed nationally each September, Larrabee helped honor the workers at Ingersoll who helped make her mother’s final year a pleasant one. Most of them have been there much longer than she has. The longest-tenured employee has been there 23 years.
Throughout the week, there were educational presentations, musical performances, sweet treats, and a barbecue costume party to celebrate the bond between workers and residents.
Jacki Weckesser, executive director of the Consaul Road facility, thanked all the employees for their dedication at a ceremony where people were honored for their years of service, then celebrated with a visit from the Coccadott’s cupcake truck.
“In our industry, people don’t always stay and work in one place for a long time,” Weckesser said.
But at Ingersoll, they often do. Steve Grabkowski, a Rotterdam resident, has been food services director for 13 years.
He was born and raised in Schenectady and said he loves having the opportunity to serve members of his community.
“What I get from here is a lot of wisdom from the residents,” he said. In addition, he gets to practice his craft. Grabkowski has a culinary arts degree, and worked as a U.S. Navy cook and then a caterer before arriving at his current position. Ingersoll Place is a rare professional experience, he said, because he serves the same people each day.
“These guys are my repeat customers,” he said.
They give him feedback, and he tries to satisfy everyone’s palates. He and his chefs make just about everything from scratch, from entrees to soups and desserts.
It’s all about the comforting power of a home-cooked meal.
“If we make them feel like they’re home again, then they are,” he said. “This is their home.”
It seems to work.
“The food is delicious,” resident Nancy Wolfe said. She’s lived in a couple of different assisted living facilities, and says Ingersoll is her favorite.
“If you have to retire, this would be the place to go,” she said. She described a place that truly had become home, especially her room, which she takes pride in cleaning and caring for by herself. She likes to relax there and look out the window at her bird feeder.
But, Wolfe said, it’s the staff that makes the difference. She was happy to be celebrating their work during Assisted Living week.
“They’re there for you,” she said. “If I fall, I just push this little button and they’re right there to pick me up.”