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In the November issue of Shorts, we announced our first-ever competition for long term care providers and asked you to nominate “the best of the best” North Carolina activity professionals to travel for free with us to Nicaragua in January 2012, to initiate the very first activities program for elders in Nicaragua and probably in all of Central America. Thanks so much to each of you who nominated a candidate for the scholarship to Nicaragua — we received incredible nominations.

We found a winner – but had a big problem. We were offering one $1,500 scholarship for one activity professional. But the nominations were so great that we couldn’t choose just one. Many of the nominators talked about how their candidates had changed the lives of seniors and always knew how “to do more with less.” So we picked up on that theme, scrounged around and found enough money for a second $1,500 scholarship.

But we still couldn’t pick just one additional winner. So we reached out to the employers of our tied second runners up, Liberty Healthcare and Rehabilitation Services and the Avante Group, and we asked them, “If we pay a half-scholarship, will you match the rest?” They both immediately said yes and thanked us for asking (how cool is that?). We are so grateful. Now we have a team of three stupendous activity professionals for the trip.

The winners are:

Brenda Zimmerman, Lutheran Home of Salisbury (nominated by her friend Onie Bodenheimer, director of operations for Woodland Place Assisted Living Community in Greensboro)

Jamie Phillips, Avante at Wilkesboro (nominated by her administrator, John Walder)

Erica Johnson, Liberty Commons Rehabilitation Center in Wilmington (nominated by her administrator, George Rallis)

We are SO excited. We leave on Sunday, January 15, 2012, for a long, hard, rewarding week at the five centers in Nicaragua that our host, the Jessie F. Richardson Foundation in Oregon, supports. I’ll be joining the team — along with Carron Suddreth, owner of Wilkes Senior Village and JFR Foundation Board member, and Angie Bunton, RN, who works with Carron — and we’ll meet up with our JFR colleagues in Managua. Our goal is to work with residents, of course, but to mainly work with local center staff to teach them the importance of activities for elders and to train them in simple activities programs they can sustain, and hopefully grow, once we are gone. The Foundation’s goal, in everything we do, is always sustainability and replicability. Our winners, now a team, have already started planning the programs they will develop for Nicaragua, locating demonstration supplies, identifying what supplies can be found locally in Nicaragua and generally getting ready to embark on the trip of a lifetime.

If the excitement, enthusiasm and energy these three ladies have shown so far is any indication, this is going to be an amazing trip. In the March issue of Shorts, we’ll profile the winners, their trips and their stories… stay tuned. In the meantime, I want to offer a heartfelt thanks to every North Carolina long term care provider and professional who has supported our work in Nicaragua over the past five years — and there are many of you. I want to thank the Avante Group and Liberty Healthcare for helping us “do more with less” and making it possible for us to choose three winners, not just one. And I want to thank Onie, John and George for nominating these incredible professionals.

Finally, I just want to say to our winners and Nicaragua team members, as they say in the Bud Light commercial, “OKAY LADIES, HERE WE GO!”

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