Resident Spotlight: Barbara Johnson, AlmaVia of San Francisco

Resident Spotlight: Barbara Johnson, AlmaVia of San Francisco.

Barbara Johnson came to AlmaVia of San Francisco after a long, successful career as an author. Born in Aberdeen, Wash., she knew from a young age what she wanted to be, even if it meant going against the wishes of her mother, who insisted she study to become either a nurse or teacher. “I want to be an author,” Johnson recalls telling her mother. “An author is different than a writer—an author is published.”

Johnson attended the University of Washington, graduated magna cum laude and was named “Writer of the Year.” She has written numerous best-selling nonfiction books and now shares her expertise with her fellow residents at AlmaVia of San Francisco.

Johnson encourages residents to compose notes called a “message to myself” to help them honestly identify their own needs, hopes and troubles through writing. To motivate community members, she uses herself as an example, citing how being in a wheelchair is not ideal yet she doesn’t allow her condition to hold her back.

“I made a pledge. I would never write anything that wouldn’t help someone.”
In her 1991 book “Brothers and Sisters,” Johnson writes about the difficulties faced when adult siblings grow apart through time and challenging circumstances. She also presents common pitfalls that occur during reconciliation and suggests ways to re-establish contact with siblings. The book was inspired by Johnson’s interactions with families in conflict. The book was her way to provide a resource for them to overcome the situation.

“I saw many families separate bitterly,” says Johnson. “Brothers and sisters were jealous, thinking ‘Mother loved you best.’ I had no idea the thunderous reception the book would get. It sold thousands of copies, and I think it helped people.”

Johnson carried this mission throughout her career. “I write totally nonfiction—no novels,” she says. “I made a pledge. I would never write anything that wouldn’t help someone. I always emphasize writing and expression, and I offer to help people write something. I will edit for them if they wish.”

A two-year resident of AlmaVia of San Francisco, Johnson spends her time listening to Elder Care Alliance speakers, attending physical exercise sessions and serving as an ambassador for new residents. A self-described people person, she attends resident council meetings and is a supportive friend when community members need to chat.

“If a person wants to talk privately, I have a closed mouth,” she says. “If they want to cry, I have a shoulder.”

Johnson has developed a bond with Tyson, the dog of Executive Director Katherine Dunakin. Tyson was rescued after a previous owner abandoned him.

“He’s living like a king now,” Johnson says. “I get to visit the king any time I want to.”

Overall, Johnson cites the multitude of social opportunities as one of the biggest benefits of living at AlmaVia of San Francisco. “I love the people that are here,” she says. “It’s a wonderful community, much to offer in every direction.

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