Recreation Therapy Assistant Stephanie Hartstrom Recalls Pioneer Week

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Stephanie Hartstrom and resident Grace Grover learned how to braid rugs out of fabric scraps and old t-shirts.Stephanie Hartstrom’s workdays are full of activity and cover a lot of ground. As one of Judson Park’s busy recreation therapy assistants, Hartstrom creates and carries out programs that help residents stay connected, attend to their overall well-being and, most importantly, she says, have some fun! And it was these same ideals, which Hartstrom and her fellow team members used, to plan for this year’s Pioneer Week, a follow-up to last year’s successful Camp Judson Park.

“This type of campus-wide programming is meant to reconnect residents—in all levels of living—to the memories, wisdom and experiences of their past as well as to teach them new things and get them involved in novel adventures,” says Hartstrom.

Pioneer Week came about because the planning team wanted to allow residents to connect with their pasts and celebrate their pioneering spirits. After this decision, Hartstrom and her team immediately started getting the word out to residents and community members. They made calls to potential speakers in Des Moines, Washington, and asked residents for event ideas.

“We ask for as much help as we can for these events," Hartstrom says. "We want our residents to have a sense of ownership and feel like part of the community. That’s the whole point—for them to feel a part of this, something bigger than themselves.”

Judson Park residents came through with more than just ideas. They shared items for display from their own family histories. One resident shared a water vessel her mother had made and used during westward travel. Another resident whose foremothers and forefathers established the city of Des Moines brought part of the original charter paperwork. Other residents with Native American roots brought items made in that tradition.

Resident Werner Fitze kicked off the week with photos and a presentation about his experiences building a log cabin in Alaska. Afterward, the audience was invited to build their own log cabins out of pretzels and peanut butter. They also heard from the curators of the local log cabin museum.

Hartstrom and several residents braided rugs together during Pioneer Week at Judson Park.Pioneer Week activities and presentations, which ran from August 8-12 consistently drew crowds of 50 to 60 residents and covered topics as varied as wolf preservation, gold mining, basket weaving, 1800s leisure activities, hymn songs, musket loading and Native American dance and culture.

“The residents felt a strong sense of community,” says Natalie Wilcox McCann, director of Resident Services. “This event helped residents see and appreciate themselves and each other in a different light.”

Seeing and appreciating the world in different and distinct ways was important to the pioneers and remains important at Judson Park.

“No matter your age, you can always find ways to participate, to learn and experience life in new ways,” says Hartstrom. 

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