Last year I worked at Alma Via of Camarillo, an assisted living and memory care facility. The best way I can describe life at AlmaVia is a mix between living in a hotel and dorm. Except for seniors. Meals are provided in a restaurant style dining room, activities are planned throughout the day and parties throughout the month.
I worked alongside Chaplain Julie Morris, continuing some of the food and garden themed activities that she had been leading once a month. One was reading poetry in the garden. Our goal was to encourage residents to be outside in the fresh air and gardens, and using poetry to reconnect with the beauty of the earth. We listened to the musings of poets on the changes of the season while enjoying the warmth and sunshine that southern California is so famous for.
Schedules at AlmaVia revolve around meals, which for some residents may be the only time they come out of their rooms. The second activity was a luncheon called “Mindful Meals” which sought to bring meaningful discussion to the dinner table around topics that would allow residents to connect with one another. The main dining room could be eerily quiet (some people said that after all these years there’s just not much to say anymore), and cliquey like a high school cafeteria, making it difficult for new residents to plug in. Mindful meals created space for people to share and get to know each other, ultimately enriching the dining experience.
Throughout the year I also did some gardening projects including the installation of two raised garden beds, specially constructed too be wheelchair accessible.
My time at AlmaVia gave me a unique perspective and appreciation for ‘the winter of life.’ This is often view as a time of end, death, and dormancy. This is true in a linear perspective, but seasons happen in cycles. This is a time for rest and reflection. Though the trees are barren, much work is happening on the inside. This is true for us as human beings as well. When we go through winters, we assess what has been done, what has been harvested, and how to advise for the next time around, or for the next generation. This is important work. As important as planting, weeding, watering, and harvesting.
This year I am working at Community Roots Garden, a one-acre collaborative plot with an impressive composting setup, outdoor kitchen area, garden styles that spread across the spectrum, and gardeners to match. There is so much to do, so many people to meet, and so much to learn. It is a laboratory of culture and symbol of beauty.
And a word about living in community. You know you’re living with good people when you can’t wait to get home and just snuggle by the fireplace with your housemates. Somehow we’ve managed to make living in community look and feel easy.