Kim Smith headshot
Kim Smith

A few weeks before Village Crossing at Worman’s Mill opened its doors, the hallways of the senior living community in Frederick, MD, rang with the happy laughter of energetic SageLife Campers getting to know each other as they explored the brand-new building.

Though the 45 campers enjoyed much of the usual summer camp fun — they played games, built up comradery and team spirit, learned camp songs and chants, and received a special T-shirt and photo to remember their time at camp — they actually were on the job, learning the ropes about what it means to be an associate in a SageLife community.

Camp SageLife is a powerful and memorable way to teach our team about our resident-focused philosophy. Instead of making people sit through a series of long and forgettable presentations, we get them on their feet. Sessions are kept short and interactive. Everything we do at camp has a purpose and lesson.

Unlike some companies that separate departments during orientation, all SageLife associates (and everyone at SageLife is an associate) come together and attend camp as a group to better ensure that all interactions with residents begin from the same starting point: genuine respect and care.

Every person who works at a SageLife community needs to be on the same page, because we all interact with residents. At camp, we gather everybody up — the life enrichment team, housekeepers, maintenance staff, cooks, servers in the dining room, concierges, the sales team, care aides, nurses, drivers, leadership, security — and introduce them to our Sageway principles, our values and our culture of encouraging, empowering and celebrating successful aging every day.

Job-specific training, such as a server learning about a menu, is kept separate from camp to focus on the larger SageLife picture.

The three-to-five-day version of Camp SageLife is only held before a new community opens, but that doesn’t mean that new or current associates don’t get to go to camp. We have day camps as well. Though these camps are shorter, the smaller groups of campers — which often include both camp rookies and veterans — allow us to be more laser-focused and impactful. It’s still a lot of fun, energizes campers, and helps them build relationships. It’s amazing to watch more reserved associates blossom over the course of a day and become full, excited participants.

Teambuilding and trust-building are important parts of the Camp SageLife experience. One of the most powerful sessions we do is called the Minefield. One camper goes through a long and complicated obstacle course blindfolded while their partner gives them directions. The blindfolded person must rely on the sighted partner completely (which can be difficult for some people), and the partner must learn how to communicate effectively and quickly. We must be worthy of the trust that our residents and their families place in us, and we must be clear in our communications.

The camp model has proven very popular and effective for SageLife. I’m frequently told by associates that they miss camp. So we have mini-camps that are shorter and have a very specific purpose. We have a customer service camp. We have MOSAIC camp, which focuses on our uncommon life enrichment program. And we have a dementia camp, where campers new and seasoned come and learn about dementia.

Each camp is fun and full of camaraderie, and we always have cool swag to give away. We have found Camp SageLife to be a great learning, training and culture-building tool for our company!

Kim Smith is vice president of operations at Springfield, PA-based SageLife, a company that designs, develops and operates senior living communities.

The opinions expressed in each McKnight’s Senior Living guest column are those of the author and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Senior Living.

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