Every month we invite one of our team members to sit down with us and tell us more about their journey to Elder Care Alliance, their role now, and their insights into older adult care. We are excited to share the expertise and knowledge of our many team members who every day come to work and help our residents live their best lives today with us.
Today we welcome Pastor Jerry Cooper, AlmaVia of Camarillo Spiritual Care Director.
Us: Hi, Pastor Jerry. Please tell us a little about your background and your role at Elder Care Alliance.
Pastor Jerry: My life has included many diverse experiences that reflect who I am. My college degree was in science, and now I am a pastor. Some may see these as contradictory, but I love finding the complementary truths found in both.
I have visited 37 countries around the world, spanning the 5 main continents. I have loved each experience and have enjoyed getting to know the local people and cultures. I love learning about all the different aspects of this amazing world God has placed us in and appreciate all that has molded me into the person I am today.
Before joining ECA, I worked for 25 years in local churches in California and Maryland—including 12 years as a local church pastor here in Camarillo. I have many wonderful connections throughout this community. I have also been on several boards and in leadership with a number of international organizations. Six years ago, I became the Spiritual Care Director at AlmaVia in Camarillo and it has been a great way to use the diversity of my background to bless the residents and staff here.
At AVC, I get to work with residents, their families, and our staff and vendors to bring encouragement, hope, support and connection. I walk alongside people in their joys and sorrows and give them opportunities to experience and learn more about their lives and the world. I help families and residents move through the transitions of life they all experience.
Us: How does your work benefit residents at Elder Care Alliance communities?
Pastor Jerry: I love the fact that ECA is one of the very few companies to not only say, but actually live out the reality that wellness includes the spiritual dimension. Residents gain the benefit of being respected, supported and encouraged in their spiritual beliefs and practices. They also have the opportunity to grow as a person no matter their age.
Most of our residents are from the Christian tradition and we have worship, study and prayer times that include participants from all sorts of backgrounds. I love seeing people freely worship together at AlmaVia who would never do so outside of this environment. We also have programs that are more non-religious in nature, such as meditation and music. Residents leave our programs feeling uplifted, strengthened and more connected to one another. It makes life a little more worth living when it often seems one day is the same as the next.
Us: Tell us more about a specific feature of your job or duties and what residents expect to gain from that.
Pastor Jerry: The greatest joy of my job is simply getting to know our residents, hearing their stories, meeting their families, and loving them. However, my favorite program is a Thursday morning class called, “Food for Mind and Spirit.” In this class, I get to teach on virtually any topic under the sun that relates to human life and experience.
We talk about history, science, psychology, travel, culture, relationships, politics, religion, current events and anything else you might think of. I believe that as long as you are alive, you are meant to keep growing as a human, and the residents love being given themes to chew on and discuss. They also love being respected for their own opinions and experiences.
Us: What is one of your favorite memories or experiences working at Elder Care Alliance?
Pastor Jerry: One of my favorite memories is the first time I brought my family in with me to do a family-style Christmas program on Christmas Day. We wanted every resident who wasn’t able to be with their own family to be part of ours on that special day. What we had planned to be a 30-minute event with a handful of residents ended up being a large crowd that hung out together for well over an hour.
We all sang songs, told the Christmas story around our family’s nativity set, ate chocolate, shared various traditions that each resident grew up with, and just enjoyed the huge circle of love and joy. One resident came in a little late, but her son told me later that she made him drive her back to AlmaVia early so she wouldn’t miss meeting my family.
Us: What is the greatest reward that your role at Elder Care Alliance brings?
Pastor Jerry: That’s simple. It is seeing our residents live a life worth living during their final years. We all need a sense of purpose and meaning, yet too often in the waning years, older adults resign themselves to existing, enduring and surviving. We get to see people come alive in ways that often surprise not only their families, but themselves as well.
Us: Can you share any insights into new activities, programs, etc. you are planning for the future?
Pastor Jerry: The pandemic has been hard on everyone, especially residents. One of the tricks is learning to engage residents in meaningful activities no matter what regulations and challenges they face. One of the strategies is to get residents out and about, taking them on a little tour of faith to communities in town where they can meet the local religious leaders, learn and ask questions.
We also want to provide more opportunities for deeper connections with each other, so we want to launch a lunch series for smaller groups. That way they can share life experiences and discuss different topics over a meal. Ultimately, we want to listen well and meet the needs the residents express—both directly and indirectly.