Creating Community During COVID-19

RiverWoods Durham Responds to Crisis with Creativity and Humor

It’s been over three months since our community began shelter-in-place procedures, as Justine Vogel, CEO of the RiverWoods Group, implemented policies that, while restrictive, were done so with a single, vital objective: keeping our residents and staff safe.

In addition to the initial closures of our dining and fitness rooms, group classes and events, and diligent daily cleaning of our common spaces, many other changes were implemented in March and April for the protection of our residents (you can read in more detail or watch Justine’s videos here), there were other changes as well.

It was then that our Creating Virtual Community Task Force was developed, a collaborative group of community life leaders representing all of the RiverWoods Group communities – RiverWoods Exeter, RiverWoods Durham, and Birch Hill – who began meeting via Zoom on a weekly basis to share and discuss ways to keep residents connected during the crisis.

“We take the physical and mental health of our residents very seriously,” said Natalee D’Antoni, Director of Community Life at RiverWoods Durham. “But we also try to inject humor and fun into every situation. That’s just how we roll!”

In an effort to remind residents about the importance of wearing masks and social distancing, a campaign was introduced in April using the images of Executive Director Kim O’Keefe and Director of Culinary Services Glenn Morash as none other than Rosie the Riveter and Uncle Sam.

Additionally, a weekly program of activities and engagements were planned by the staff, all intended to boost spirits and encourage safe connection among residents. During the colder weeks of late spring, door to door deliveries included everything from fresh flower to cake to Easter baskets.

Practical problems were solved with humor and creativity – for instance, what to do about keeping car batteries charged while not in use? Easy – Fridays became a day for parades and car “races” as residents drove laps around the campus, entertained by costumed-staff members and music.

Spread Joy, Not Germs!

The slogan “Spread Joy (Not Germs)” was both our mission and our mantra as the RiverWoods Durham team enlivened the atmosphere with their trademark creativity and cheeky humor. Over the last four months, residents have enjoyed:

  • Staff Parades – rain or shine – around the building with lively music and humor during the early days of the shelter-in-place.
  • Exercise classes held outdoors, with the addition of tutus…just for fun.
  • Spirit Week, themed days of costumes and festivities, from Superhero Day to Alma Mater Day (Go Wildcats!)
  • Furry friends joining the festivities with the first-ever RiverWoods Durham Pet Parade.
  • Park and Chat Events – scheduled visits of family to see their loved ones from a safe distance of 6’ away.
  • Scenic drives up and down the coast on the RiverWoods Durham shuttles
  • Grilling demos, Pet Wash Parties, Coffee Conversations, the addition of an Espresso Bar and Outdoor Happy Hour
  • From Cinco de Mayo to National Donut Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and every day in between, our staff has taken every opportunity to celebrate…everything!

The situation has been challenging, requiring flexibility and adaptability on the part of both residents and staff, but here at RiverWoods Durham, our residents remain safe and healthy, enjoying the beautiful New England spring, and looking forward to the day when spreading joy includes hugs and handshakes.

Until that time, we’ll be here, coming up with new ideas to keep our residents safe, healthy, and engaged during the COVID-19 crisis.