Living a fulfilling life is an aspiration of most people. For many, living a full life includes being healthy both physically and emotionally. Unfortunately for some, their health isn’t the best – either they have chronic illness, a disability, or have reached an age where the body isn’t as strong as it once was when they were young.

Taking care of the vulnerable is core to The Bethany Group, a non-profit organization that offers health and housing services to those in need. Whether it be for seniors in Continuing Care, Lodges or Subsidized Apartments or individuals and families through Social Housing and Rent Supplement programs, The Bethany Group invests its resources into improving the lives of its clients.

The organization’s mission is to enhance the quality of life for its clients. Serving clients is more than placing a roof over their heads or providing the necessary medical care. It’s about treating clients with dignity and respect through holistic care that acknowledges the physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing of the individual.

Recreation Therapy is one way that The Bethany Group enhances its clients’ lives.

Therapeutic recreation uses creative activities to support rehabilitation and promote wellness as an integral part of an individual’s wellbeing and health. Through recreation therapy, individuals can find and maintain meaning and purpose in their lives while developing a healthy lifestyle.

As part of the health services spectrum, recreation therapists work collaboratively with physicians, psychiatrists, nurses, social workers, and dietitians – just to name a few. The team at The Bethany Group works closely on a daily basis with clients; they encourage them to experience life to its fullest while being empathetic to their ability level.

Involving clients in outdoor activities is important, especially during the summer. With many clients having compromised physical health, it can sometimes be difficult for them to get outside. However, the therapists have come up with some inventive ways to allow clients to experience the outdoors.

Over the summer, the therapists created a balcony garden for clients on the second floor of the Heritage Building. The location made it easier for them to bring clients outside while maintaining their safety. From the balcony, clients could also see wildlife (the resident hares that live on the grounds, as well as deer) and activity on the street.

The project, coordinated by Recreation Therapist, Amelia Keech, and Assistants Debbie Parton and Kati Woycechowsky encourages clients to grow and harvest vegetables that would be later used in their lunch cooking programs. The key to its success was building the boxes at a level that allowed clients in wheelchairs to access the box without undue physical strain

The balcony garden is just one of the outdoor spaces used by recreation therapy. One of their larger tasks, which benefitted greatly from the hard work of the Horticultural Society ladies, was bringing the Rosehaven Courtyard back to life after years of disuse and overgrown weeds.

The courtyard is a secure outdoor area for clients, their families, and staff. Filled with bushes, flowers, statues, and a water fountain, the courtyard has become a popular place with clients. It also has brought a lot of birds and squirrels.

The Rosehaven Courtyard is open to residents and staff during the summer. It's a great place to eat lunch, take a break, and enjoy nature.

Therapy programming in the courtyard includes watering and trimming bushes, filling up the bird feeders, and identifying the wildlife. The latter includes a robin that loves the courtyard so much it has decided to winter there. A number of programs that are usually facilitated indoors are moved into the courtyard during the summer months, such as mental aerobics, table games, music, and sensory stimulation.

At Louise Jensen Care Centre, the gardens were taken over by recreation therapy and other staff to hold the annual Louise Jensen County Fair. Clients spent the afternoon playing games like a Bean Bag Toss, Let’s Go Fishing, and Paint the Shelly (Shelly being a therapy aide who bravely took hits from food-dye-coloured balloons). After winning at the games, clients were given LJ Dollars to then buy items at the prize table.

The highlight of the afternoon was the dog show featuring staff members’ and families’ pet pooches. Outside, residents and staff gathered as dogs competed for “cutest dog” and “best trick.” It was a fun end to an exciting day.

Helly, one of the dogs in the Louise Jensen Dog Show, visits with a resident.

Dogs are a great way to connect with residents. Quite often, you will find registered therapy dogs visiting residents in many facilities. In Wetaskiwin Meadows, Morris pays a visit every two weeks, much to the delight of residents. Interaction with therapy dogs can often cause lowered blood pressure, improved relaxation, and increased social behaviour. 

Pets provide one of the few interventions capable of permanently lifting the atmosphere of a care facility. As Jenelle Spiess, a Support Aide, says of Morris’ visit, “We had residents who wouldn’t leave their room for any other activity but once they found out a dog was coming in, it made them so excited. Residents start to remember the pets they had back on their family farms. We even had residents practice their barking skills!”

Morris' visits to Wetaskiwin Meadows are always popular with the residents, even enticing more reclusive residents to come out and visit.

Overall, there are a variety of activities and programs that enhance residents’ lives. All year round, in several care facilities including long term care, designated supportive living, and the more independent living at lodges, residents are encouraged to participate in organized activities. Whether it is an outing to an event or visits from furry friends, the aim is to uplift and enhance residents’ lives.