If someone were to walk into Astor Place on a typical Wednesday morning, they would find seniors engaged in a lively game of “Noodle Ball.” Wielding pool noodles and whacking a bright balloon with a smiley face, residents of the assisted living community are exercising. Leading the game is Life Enrichment Coordinator Claire Ogren. She motivates the group and ensures everyone feels at ease, participating at a comfortable level, whether they are watching the festivities from the hall or in the middle of the action.
Drawn to the medical field, Ogren came to Astor Place in 2012 as a caregiver. “I’ve always enjoyed being around the elderly. Their stories are not in history books, and you would never hear them unless you’re around them,” says Ogren. She jumped at the chance to coordinate activities and has excelled at the job due to her level of commitment to her residents. Her passion for life is nearly tangible, and her enthusiasm for her career is evident in the smiles radiating off of the faces of the residents.
“I’m a person they trust at a very vulnerable part of their life. Being able to bring a smile to their face is incredibly rewarding,” Ogren says. Residents of Astor Place are able to voice concerns and opinions during monthly council sessions. “They are able to have a voice in their care,” she explains. While schedules, exercise, public outings and health care visits are among Ogren’s job duties, she also takes it upon herself to create new experiences within the living center.
Early in the spring of 2017, Ogren coordinated with a local Boy Scout troop to build planter boxes for a community garden. “We had been talking about a community garden forever, so I wanted to make it happen,” she says. While the garden has been turned down for the season, remnants of herbs, flowers and tomato plants can be seen in the well-tended, hip-level planter boxes. “The residents take a lot of pride in the garden and courtyard. We had one gentleman receive a large package, which turned out to be a chainsaw. We were all a little nervous watching him prune tree branches,” shares Ogren.
“I love the different characters I get to meet,” Ogren explains as she points out a woman dressed in pink. “She has a few different boyfriends,” according to Ogren. In addition to her many romances, the same woman walked in the Fourth of July Parade, found a young man, and laid a kiss right on his mouth. “She is just so outgoing and such a free spirit.”
While Ogren works tirelessly in her position, she has also partnered with co-worker and fellow Warrenton High School alum Alana Warren, the community relations manager for Astor Place. Together they organized a bake sale fundraiser for the Astoria Public Library. The sale generated upwards of $500.
Residents of Astor Place enjoy remaining an active part of the community, whether they are going into town or interacting with visitors. “We always love having volunteers, but intergenerational activities are a favorite. We all love having kids come in,” says Ogren. “A lot of Astoria High School seniors come in for their senior projects. There are about five Astoria High School graduates as residents right now, and they love to talk about local families.”
While there is incredible joy in what Ogren does, there is a mental toll that it can take. “It is definitely hard when you build relationships with people and you come back and their bed is empty and someone else moves in. Emotional times are hard, mentally exhausting, but it’s all worth it when a resident responds positively. One of my favorite parts of the job is building relationships with the residents,” she said.
The feeling is mutual, from both residents and co-workers alike. A soft-spoken man named Cliff was watching the activities unfold, but made a point to say, “She’s just wonderful. Just beautiful.” And many seniors around the Noodle Ball circle shared the sentiment. Carolyn confidently stated, “You could not ask for more. She is great.” Co-worker Tera shared, “I think the residents thrive with her here.”
Astor Place is a more joyful place with Claire Ogren at the helm for life enrichment. Ogren is a gracious person with a profound impact on our elderly community. Spunky resident Illene comments, “She can’t be beat.”