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Helping Senior Citizens Thrive Through a Pandemic

Paula Banno ’13 brings leadership and joy to senior living.

Elmhurst College alumna Paula Banno '13 has used her education to advance in the senior care industry.

“I think one of the best things that I learned from my leadership classes at Elmhurst was how to empower others.” —Paula Banno ’13

Paula Banno’s title is director of lifestyle, but she’ll tell you she manages “the Department of Joy” at the Oak Trace Senior Living Community in Downers Grove. Banno ’13 supervises a team of about 30 employees who run more than a thousand monthly activities and events for the community’s residents.

Banno previously worked for her current company, Lifespace Communities, before attending Elmhurst, where she majored in psychology and organizational leadership and communication. She already understood the importance of programming that addressed spiritual, social, physical and cognitive development for seniors. Her studies at Elmhurst gave her the tools to take on a leadership role with the organization.

“I think one of the best things that I learned from my leadership classes at Elmhurst was how to empower others,” she says of both her residents and her team members. “It pays off tenfold because you watch people blossom, and the more safe people feel, the more they excel.”

The current coronavirus pandemic brings challenges especially in keeping vulnerable people connected. But Banno, her team, and the residents have used it as an opportunity to flex their creative—and sometimes literal—muscles.

Special meals and theme nights—with costumes encouraged—keep the community together. And Banno’s team has made lots of videos: teaching residents how to exercise in their apartments, showing them how to grow plants, letting everyone show off their best socially-distanced dance moves to the music of James Brown.

Banno knows that keeping residents healthy through activity and engagement is more important now than ever.

“We used to think that when somebody retired they could just kick back and take it easy, and that was their time to relax. What we find is that people get depressed, and they become less and less mobile. It’s part of our job as a retirement community to keep people engaged.”

Banno also cautions people not to underestimate seniors because of their age. (Just ask her resident in her 80s who can do the splits!)

“Our residents have so much to give,” Banno says. “They have all this wisdom and helping to direct that is exciting. It’s great to watch the different things that they can accomplish.”

Posted June 9, 2020

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