There’s No Place Like Home

Ecumen’s 150th Gala celebration, in pictures.  See full story, below. 

Ecumen’s "150 Years" graphics embedded in a  beautiful ice sculpture, which chilled the Emerald Slippers as they coursed through the ice block and into waiting goblets. 

Ecumen Board of Trustees members Debbie Cervenka (Chair of Philanthropy Committee) and Loanne Thrane (with husband Ralph) enjoying the gala festivities. 

Gala organizer and Ecumen’s Director of Philanthropy Stacey Minnick (three cheers, Stacey!) and Dana Wollschlager, Ecumen’s Director of Real Estate Development.  Having a good time. 

The Great Hall,  minutes before the celebration. 

Guests mingled as they perused the unique, one-of-a-kind creations by leading Minnesota artists featured in the "Imagine Home" silent auction, enjoyed hors d’oeuvres by CRAVE, sampled an "Emerald Slipper," the event’s signature cocktail, and experienced a soulful performance by VocalEssence, led by visionary director and founder Philip Brunelle. Proceeds from the gala will help support Ecumen’s Awakenings initiative, a groundbreaking new approach to Alzheimer’s care focused upon moving people away from unnecessary use of antipsychotic medications and awakening them to living as fully as possible.

Following are Kathryn’s remarks from the event. 

Good evening. It is so wonderful to see each of you. Thank you so very much for sharing this milestone with us and for your generous support of our mission to create home for older adults wherever they choose to live.

As you might have read in the Star Tribune this week, our mission is backed by 150 years of care. It all began when Lutheran missionaries sheltered children orphaned in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. As a new century dawned, we moved into senior services in 1904. We were known in the 20th Century as the Board of Christian Service and then the Board of Social Ministry.

Entering the 21st Century, we embarked on a new path, a path of transforming senior services and creating a new future and new possibilities in aging. That path was marked by a new name – Ecumen. Ecumen, like the phrase Ecumenical, is derived from the Greek word for home. Our name underscores our mission to create home and that our front doors are open wide for new collaborations, new possibilities and new solutions that make lives better.

Ecumen’s work is changing aging. It has to. We’re all growing older. And we’re doing it at an unprecedented rate. In just 7 years, Minnesota will have more seniors than children – a first.

I see incredible opportunity for innovation in aging. In the last decade, our work has included the largest expansion of housing in our history; it’s led to growing at-home services that will continue to evolve; it’s led to work beyond the borders of Minnesota, and it’s leading to many new people supporting and helping us transform the aging experience. I’d like to share how your generous support this evening is Changing Aging:

Until the 1970s, the phrase Alzheimer’s was largely isolated to medical journals. Today more than 100,000 Minnesotans have Alzheimer’s. Without a cure, nearly half of people who reach age 80 will have Alzheimer’s or other form of dementia.

The culture of Alzheimer’s care in America has often resulted in the inappropriate long-term use of antipsychotic drugs. These medications are used to control verbal or physical outbursts that can occur with Alzheimer’s. Inappropriate long-term use of these drugs can lead to a person living life in a stupor, devoid of human emotion. In a sense, they’re put asleep.

Our work of changing aging means seeing things differently. Where some see Alzheimer’s, we see beautiful human beings. Several years ago we began working in partnership with a leading physician to see if we could change this culture of Alzheimer’s care. We started emphasizing non-pharmaceutical approaches, such as exercise, storytelling, aroma therapy, and teaching family members how to identify triggers to behavioral changes. This approach focuses on a person’s abilities and possibilities, not simply disabilities.

We’ve named this initiative “Awakenings,” because through this whole-person approach we have seen people awaken from a drug-induced stupor. We’ve dramatically reduced the use of anti-psychotic medications at Ecumen. And, most importantly, we’ve made lives better.

You can see that improvement in Joan in Two Harbors who now participates in balloon volleyball while smiling and laughing.

You can see it in Helen in Mankato. Helen’s care team learned from her family that she had had a favorite cat named Whitey. Upon leaving for World War II, her husband had given it to her to keep her company. Learning this, an Ecumen care professional shared a toy white cat with Helen as a gift and asked to learn more about Whitey. Helen adored that cat. Her outbursts subsided. By learning about Helen, and finding a source of her joy, we helped her find peace.

Our Awakenings pilot received a $3.8 million grant from the State of Minnesota’s Department of Human Services to measure the success of this work and lessons that can be applied elsewhere. Changing Aging means building on this work, providing training to others and transforming the culture of Alzheimer’s care. I’d like to applaud the people at Ecumen who have taken Awakenings from an idea to a reality and applaud each of you who have helped us raise $100,000 this evening for Awakenings.

In conclusion, I say thank you. Thank you so very much for celebrating with us and for honoring our mission to create home for older adults wherever they choose to live and our commitment to creating the future of aging for you, me and those we love. We’re all aging. And, with your support, the best is yet to come. Thank you.