It’s awesome when good things happen to good people!

I love the various McKnight’s awards that show up throughout the year. iN2L has been honored over the years to have won several of the annual Tech Awards. But this time, with the Women of Distinction awards, it’s very personal to me.

Two of my favorite friends, mentors, colleagues have been honored by McKnight’s. It’s a thrill to see it happen. Both Juliet Holt Klinger from Brookdale Senior Living and Susan Ryan from the Green House Project combine leadership with passion and integrity with joy, and it’s been amazing to see their sphere of leadership and influence grow within the industry.

Juliet Holt Klinger: The right leader at the right time

There’s a proverb that says that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. For me, that teacher was Juliet.

Juliet consistently led the effort to transform dementia care both inside Brookdale and within the senior living industry as a whole. I first encountered her in 2004, five years after co-founding iN2L.

In our first meeting, I noticed her passionate advocacy for dignified programming for individuals living with dementia. She immediately saw the value of iN2L for her residents, in some ways more than I did. She also recognized that I needed mentoring!

I was still a rookie in the world of dementia. As a founder of a tech company offering transformative technology to an industry that was ripe for disruption, I didn’t have the right “vocabulary” for the field and lacked formal and informal training on dementia. I just felt passionate that no one should be left out of the technology revolution, and I naively thought that my passionate belief that people living with dementia still should experience joy and meaning via technology was enough to open the right doors. I was a human version of a piece of unmolded clay! 

Juliet helped shape me in multiple ways, personally and professionally. She helped me understand and become fluent in the nuanced language of dementia professionals. She also tirelessly worked to get iN2L into Brookdale’s Clare Bridge programming —  she wanted to make progress in bringing joy to people living with dementia and in changing the perception of world at large. 

It was a long, five-year journey from our initial meeting to the first rollout of iN2L touch screen systems at Brookdale, but having this community’s buy-in changed the trajectory of iN2L’s growth. Our products and services aligned with Juliet’s vision, creating a pivotal moment in iN2L’s journey.

Juliet has brilliantly orchestrated the use of iN2L at Brookdale for many years now, and their strategic usage of our technology continues to stand out, especially during the pandemic. One of my favorite iN2L metrics is the cumulative usage of iN2L at Brookdale, which has passed the 5 million hours milestone — and that translates into millions of moments of joyful engagement for seniors, giving thousands of families peace of mind knowing their loved one is finding fulfillment, purpose, and pleasure in life. This statistic also says a lot about the quality of resident experience at Brookdale, and it never would have been achieved without Juliet’s leadership.

I am glad to see Juliet recognized for her contributions to elder care. She deserves this award and is truly the right leader at the right time.

Susan Ryan, a determined and inspiring reformer

It also warms my heart to see the spotlight on Susan Ryan, senior director of the Green House Project. Susan, like Juliet, is a passionate and relentless advocate for older adults and an activist in the fight against ageism in our country. She is a phenomenal leader who brings hope to the industry.

Susan’s leadership approach is passionate, she walks the walk! As a reformer, she tirelessly promotes the Green House model, which allows elders to live in groups of eight to 10 in settings that resemble homes rather than many traditional nursing home settings.

This model, rightfully so, has been a silver lining through the pandemic, as seniors residing in Green House communities have experienced significantly fewer COVID-19 incidents. Susan is on the front lines evangelizing this alternative to traditional senior living settings. I truly believe the Green House model provides a glimpse into the future — just ask the New York Times

Since she began her career as a nurse in one of the earliest assisted living organizations, Susan has consistently challenged the norm because she always believed the industry could do better for older adults. Now, she’s an evangelist for the Green House model and is consistently in the media promoting strategies on how senior living organizations can address the whole patient so older adults can lead a joyful and meaningful life as they age.

Susan and I first met 10 years ago. Her experience in life enrichment and geriatric therapy gave her the context to appreciate the value proposition of iN2L touch screen technology and how it could enhance the lives of older adults, especially those living with dementia.

With her nursing background, she was able to go toe to toe with our therapy team, bandying around CPT codes, therapeutic interventions and other multi-syllabic words I didn’t quite understand. Her insight helped iN2L make essential product improvements that better supported the needs of older adults. iN2L is not the only beneficiary of her brilliance. And I cherish our conversations over tropical cocktails laced with umbrella stirrers.

Susan has masterfully guided the Green House world through major changes and opportunities and can potentially help this movement explode. When industry leaders are focused on the bottom line, she has the business savvy to take on their reservations about small residential communities. The ease with which she articulates the advantage of the Green House model and the value of using content-driven engagement technology promises to be one of the drivers that transforms the industry.

So, who says good things don’t happen to good people? 

I wholeheartedly admire the work that Juliet and Susan do, and I thank McKnight’s for honoring my two friends who are so deserving of this honor. The world knows them both through their passion and their tireless work on behalf of elders, and this award helps acknowledge the work they have done. They were never looking for recognition — they just did what they thought was right. I’m glad that they now will be known as Women of Distinction.

And I’m just glad to know them as great friends, as great people and as advocates in making the planet a better place. Susan, umbrella drinks for all; and Juliet, a round of pinot on the house! I congratulate you both on an award well earned.

Jack York is the co-founder of iN2L.

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