Green House Blog

Highlighting THE GREEN HOUSE® Project Team: Marla DeVries

Being an advocate for others is what Marla truly enjoys.  In fact, most of her professional career has been in roles where it has been her responsibility to make sure the voices of others are being heard.  Elders have been her focus for the last 20 years.

Marla began her journey in Michigan as a Long Term Care Ombudsman for a nonprofit group called Citizens for Better Care.  In her position she would visit with Elders to make sure they understood their rights, conducted education sessions for Skilled Nursing Home staff and participated in family and Elder councils.  It was during this time that Marla heard a lecture by Eden Alternative and Green House founder, Dr. Bill Thomas, and within months the Ombudsman program partnered with the Eden Alternative.  Marla became an Eden Specialist instructing her colleagues on the principles of the Eden Alternative.  She implemented a Western Michigan Eden Support group for long term care communities. 

Training and educating others about Elders became a passion for Marla.  In Michigan over 2,500 participants learned about the Eden Alternative through her training programs.  She developed educational materials and learning sessions for Area Agencies on Aging staff in Michigan and became a sought after speaker for long term care conferences.

For the past 5 years, Marla has focused all of her attention on culture change. Most recently she led the management of culture change work teams across five care communities in Utah employing 400 staff positions.

Marla is now sharing her skills and knowledge about Elders and culture change in THE GREEN HOUSE ® Project as a Project Guide.

  • 20 years of experience in aging services—with a passion for culture change  
  • Recipient of the Eden Alternative 2010 Leadership Award
  • Initiated curricula development for state-wide adult abuse and neglect prevention training and train the trainer sessions reaching over 7000 direct care staff in Michigan
  • Eden Educator authorized to conduct Certified Eden Associate training, Eden leadership training, Eden at Home trainer certification, and Eden Alternative Neighborhood Guide workshops.
  • Speaker/Presenter for numerous Utah Healthcare conferences

 Marla thoroughly enjoys the outdoors, especially hiking on a good trail…whether in the sun or snow!  Marla and her husband live in Utah and have 3 children.

Relational Coordination-A Practice with Big Benefits

Via Provider Magazine

As we all know advances in medical equipment and technology play an important role in the care we provide Elders, but leaders must remember that staff and their relationships have the greatest influence on performance.   In the latest edition of Provider Magazine, relational coordination is explored as a critical element for high-performing nursing homes.  David Farrell, the new Director of THE GREEN HOUSE® Project, is one of three authors for the article.

Deep, knowing relationships are the foundation for Green House homes and support the core value of Meaningful Life.

Read more about the evidence that supports relational coordination and tell us what you think!

Highlighting THE GREEN HOUSE® Project Team: Heather Marshall, Project Manager

Heather fondly remembers her childhood and much of that happiness in her life is because her Grandparents were so involved in her upbringing.  In fact for a long time Heather thought she had two Moms—her Mom and her other “mom” which was her Grandmother!

Her Grandmother worked in the school system as a Truant Officer, so Heather would not only spend time at home with her, she was also at the school with her every day.  Those early years formed a unique foundation for Heather—one where she was most comfortable being around adults and also showed the importance of being grateful for the many blessings in her life.  Giving back to your community was part of those lessons learned from her childhood.

So it should be no surprise that Heather pursued a degree in Social Work and was the only one in her undergraduate class with an interest in Gerontology!  Her undergraduate work earned her many awards including being published in a national industry periodical, Social Work.  An internship at an Adult Day Enrichment program turned into a full-time position after she graduated with her B.S. in Social Work.  A year and half later Heather went back to school for her Master of Social Work degree at Washington University in St. Louis.  A highlight for her graduate work was the time she spent as an intern at the National Council on Aging where she organized a national summit for the Multi-Generational and Civic Engagement Initiative which brought together leaders to share successful methods of engaging older volunteers in leadership positions.

Today, as a Project Manager for THE GREEN HOUSE ® Project, Heather is excited to be part of the team and share her knowledge of the model and support current adopters.

  • Master of Social Work, Gerontology; Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri
  • Emerging Leaders in Aging (ELA), Co-Director of D.C. mentorship program
  • Trained Eden Associate and Embracing Elderhood Guide
  • 5 years in aging services
  • Publication in Social Work.  The big picture:  How social work can effectively utilize photography.  October 2009.
  • National Association of Social Workers Bachelor of Social Work Student of the Year for Tennessee; Dr. Clara Louise Myers Outstanding Practicum Student Award in Gerontology

In addition to her passion for working with Elders, Heather enjoys photography, game nights with friends, attending live concerts, and playing Ultimate Frisbee!

Highlighting the VA Illiana Health Care System on Veteran's Day

In honor of Veteran’s Day, The Green House Project wants to give a shout out to the VA Illiana Health Care System (VAIHCS) in Danville, Illinois.  This team never lost sight of their dream: bringing a real home environment to their Community Living Centers (CLCs).  For six years staff at VAIHCS worked tirelessly to make this dream a reality.  Finally in December 2011, they opened their first Green House home, and then the second home one month later.  Over the next year, two more Green House homes will open. 

This week, the team was notified that they received the 2012 Under Secretary for Health’s Award for Innovation in VA Community Living Centers.  This award is given to a VA that has shown real leadership and innovation in veterans’ care.  The organization receiving this award has shown change in the following areas: work practices, care practices, environment of care, leadership, and government and community relationships.

This award is a testament to the determination and passion of all the individuals involved in this effort.  A comment from one veteran who said, “I never thought I would be living in a home again” or a staff member who stated that “I look forward to coming to work and I am in no hurry to leave at the end of my shift” is all the proof they need to know this initiative was worth it.

Every Home Has A Story

At a recent conference attended by our Green House Guide, Rhonda Wolpert, she heard Dr. Bill Thomas explain how important it is that a home has a story. At our Home Blessing, Laura Voth and Doug Luginbill shared the initial stories of the first two Green House homes in Ohio. House A, or 101 Willow Ridge Drive, has become Betty House and is named after Betty and Dallas Bash. Betty lived at Mennonite Memorial Home for 25 years. Dallas lived there for 3 years as well. During those 25 years Betty, Dallas and their family modeled the commitment, dedication, and love that makes family relationships successful. We pray that this same spirit of love and commitment will grace Betty House long into the future. House B or 103 Willow Ridge Drive is named Frieda House after James and Frieda Basinger. James and Frieda grew up in Bluffton and attended Bluffton University. Their careers took them to various locations throughout the country and they retired in Bisbee, AZ. While they never lived in Bluffton after college, the Basingers did not forget their family and friends in Bluffton. For three years Frieda made a $1000 gift at Christmas-time with the instruction, “Make the resident’s lives brighter.” Frieda passed away in 2009. It was only then that we discovered Bluffton University and Mennonite Home Communities were named as the sole recipients of their estate, each receiving over $500,000. This was the gift MHCO needed to move forward with Willow Ridge. We pray that the lives of the elders at Frieda House will always remain bright.

Embracing Elderhood Changes Lives Across Generations

By Laura Beck on September 13, 2012

At last week’s Green House Annual Meeting in Grand Rapids, Mich., I had the opportunity to introduce Green House adopters to Embracing Elderhood, an Eden Alternative initiative that brings volunteers, age 16 and older, together with Elders through the power of story

There is an African saying that equates the passing of an Elder to the loss of a library.  This proverb is the inspiration behind Embracing Elderhood and the notion that to truly care for someone, you must have a deeper understanding and appreciation of who they are.  On November 15th and 16th, The Eden Alternative will offer Embracing Elderhood Guide Certification to Green Houses and other organizations to help make legacy creation  an integral part of their community culture.

Part life story and part gift in the form of whatever an Elder wishes to offer future generations, legacies highlight and celebrate Elders as unique individuals, provide meaningful engagement for all, and answer important questions about our own lives.

When Elders are encouraged to share their legacies, we strike a blow against any potential sense of helplessness and isolation and reclaim their vital societal role.  In a healthy human community, this precious balance between giving and receiving across generations is essential. Every effort to weave Elders back into the social fabric of our communities – even one relationship at a time – is another step toward promoting a vision of Elderhood as a valued phase of human development, rather than just the decline of life.

Organizations tell us all of the time that they already ‘do’ Elder stories.  What we’ve learned, though, is that legacy creation, at its best, is much more about the process, than it is the outcome.

Years ago, I had the opportunity to talk to some young people who’d been handed a list of questions and told to sit with an older stranger and get some answers.  These youth shared later that they had no idea why they were there and why they were doing this.  The Elders, in turn, stated that they didn’t know why they were being asked all of these personal questions.  Without a sense of purpose behind their actions, neither walked away touched in any particularly meaningful way.

Knowing WHY an Elder’s legacy has value is the first vital step toward successful legacy creation.  Given the right tools and perspective upfront, participants are often surprised by how deeply they are positively affected by the experience in the end.

Meredith, a 12th grade Embracing Elderhood Recording Partner from Charlottesville, VA, said, “This experience has completely changed the way I think about being an Elder. It helped me to understand that Elders don’t just live in the past. They still have the desire to learn, great senses of humor, and important lives to live.”

Meredith, like all volunteer Recording Partners, began her Embracing Elderhood journey in a 1-day training that introduces participants to culture change ideals.  Through the scope of the Eden Alternative’s Ten Principles, Embracing Elderhood Guides  teach Recording Partners person-directed concepts and techniques designed to create meaningful partnerships with their Elder Storytellers.  The interactive workshop emphasizes the power of story, the impact of ageism, redefining Elderhood, balancing “being” and “doing,” and appropriate communication and companionship building skills.

Recording Partners also learn how to drive an online template for legacy creation, which is just prescriptive enough for them to focus their attention on the relationship they are building with their Storyteller, while leaving room for creative license.  From there, each Recording Team, composed of a Recording Partner and a Storyteller, receives on-going mentorship from their Embracing Elderhood Guide, who is prepared to support each team’s legacy creation process.

Dr. Bill Thomas suggests that “acknowledging and embracing the idea of Elder-richness and strengthening the exchange between the generations can improve quality of life for all ages.” While the participation of youth tends to pique most people’s interest in Embracing Elderhood, Recording Partners can be as young as 16 and as old as they want to be.

This, coupled with the fact that any kind of organization can begin an ongoing Embracing Elderhood initiative, offers flexibility and the opportunity to help create a new vision of aging that calls on everyone to play a part in bringing it to life.

Creating A Safe Place For Older Adults Who Are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender

Kate Waldo and Debbie Wiegand, Project Guides at The Green House Project

It is hard to believe there is a group of older adults who are less likely to use health services, visit their local senior center and be open about their lifestyle when living in a nursing home or assisted living facility.  However, this is the reality for most older adults who are  Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT). 

Kate Waldo, Project Guide at THE GREEN HOUSE ® Project discussed this issue at The Pioneer Network 12th National Conference in Jacksonville, Florida.  She talked about ways aging providers can improve services and support for LGBT older adults.  To say support for this population is inadequate would be an understatement.  So why is this happening? There has been a long history of discrimination, stigmatization and persecution of this population.  The LGBT older adults we are currently serving have lived through heinous treatment, from electric shock therapy as the standard “treatment for homosexuality” to losing their jobs and children for being gay.  It is no wonder many individuals have waited until late life to come out or continue to hide it.    

As health care providers, we cannot be satisfied with services that are not meeting the needs of one of the most vulnerable populations.  To learn more, contact the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging.

Tribes of Eden Book Club at Pioneer Network’s 2012 National Conference

It’s not often that you get the chance to hear the author read excerpts from their book, but that was the case Tuesday as Dr. Bill Thomas discussed his latest novel, The Tribes of Eden.   The lucky audience was attendees at the Pioneer Network 2012 National Conference.  The book is set in the near future after the utter collapse of society.  It introduces a new vision of old age to counter ageist views that hinder our efforts to improve care for older adults.   

Dr. Thomas had a special message for the culture change group, stating that it is time for them to take the movement one step further.  “We need to become agents of changing our wider culture.”  He believes the novel can be conduit for this broader change.  He challenged the group “to begin framing the work you do to the society as a whole”…it is time to combat declinist and ageist views that do not promote elderhood.

Dr. Thomas is the founder of The Eden Alternative and The Green House Project.

Tribes of Eden Book Club at Pioneer Network's 2012 National Conference

It’s not often that you get the chance to hear the author read excerpts from their book, but that was the case Tuesday as Dr. Bill Thomas discussed his latest novel, The Tribes of Eden.   The lucky audience was attendees at the Pioneer Network 2012 National Conference.  The book is set in the near future after the utter collapse of society.  It introduces a new vision of old age to counter ageist views that hinder our efforts to improve care for older adults.   

Dr. Thomas had a special message for the culture change group, stating that it is time for them to take the movement one step further.  “We need to become agents of changing our wider culture.”  He believes the novel can be conduit for this broader change.  He challenged the group “to begin framing the work you do to the society as a whole”…it is time to combat declinist and ageist views that do not promote elderhood.

Dr. Thomas is the founder of The Eden Alternative and The Green House Project.

Community integrated Green House homes provide a New York neighborhood with something special…licensed nursing home care

It takes a variety of homes to make up a neighborhood—so why not build Green House homes in existing communities?  There are those who would question whether it’s possible…but in upstate New York it’s proving to be a wonderful addition to the neighborhood and a shining example of skilled nursing home care.

While many of us would clearly prefer home and community-based care, it’s estimated that 1.2 million Americans currently live in institutional facilities.  This rings especially true for low-income elders and others who lack access to affordable nursing services in their area.

Green House homes offer elders a place where autonomy and choice are honored, direct skilled nursing care is a priority, and they have more satisfying and meaningful lives, work and relationships.  When the home is located within a neighborhood—it also meets that desire for community-based services.

St. John’s Home in Rochester, New York opened the first two community-integrated Green House homes two months ago and will part of an evaluation of the concept over the next three years.

CLICK HERE to read the full story.

Tell us what you think below!

Coaching Corner – Approaching the Difficult Conversation: Self-Awareness

As a coaching Guide, team member, and partner in Green House homes we constantly have opportunities to communicate and build relationships with team members.  Time spent in getting to know and trust each other is essential for team effectiveness and success.  But sometimes a particular conversation is uncomfortable, unsettling, or just plain difficult!  Self-awareness is one of the four foundational coaching skills and directly applies to identifying and understanding that a difficult conversation has presented itself.

What makes a conversation a difficult conversation?

A difficult conversation is anything you find hard to talk about.  There are many reasons why a conversation may be difficult for you, including:

-You care deeply about the issue

-The topic is controversial (i.e. religion or politics)

-The outcome is uncertain

-You feel vulnerable or your self esteem is implicated

-You care deeply about the people with whom you are discussing the issue

When a difficult conversation occurs, spend a little time considering what really happened.  There are generally three levels of conversation:

The “What Happened?” Conversation:  Often there is a basic disagreement about the facts of the situation. Who said and did what, what it meant and who is wrong or right.  This creates an immediate disconnect between the people in the conversation.

The Feelings Conversation:  Every difficult conversation involves feelings.  Am I right or wrong; are my feelings appropriate and valid? How about the feelings of the other person?  Do feelings belong in the conversation or should I ignore them?  Unfortunately feelings are part of the equation. 

 The Identity Conversation:  We figure out what the conversation means to ourselves.  In this conversation many judgments happen: are we right or wrong, a good or bad person, competent or incompetent?  These judgments affect our self-esteem and self-worth.  

Here are some ways to reframe the situation for greater understanding and alignment:

  1. Pull back from arguing about who is right.  Be open to exploring the other person’s story.  The pull back will help to reframe the conversation, and look with real curiosity into what the person understands and believes about the “what happened”.
  2. Don’t assume they meant it!  Intentions strongly shape our views and judgments about the impact of the situation.  By putting aside blame and judgment, we open up the possibility of a very different outcome of the conversation.
  3. Choose to not focus on blame.  Sometimes one person is clearly the cause of something that has gone wrong.  Focusing on blame is not helpful because it inhibits our ability to learn what’s really causing the problem and find insights and answers to correct it.  The impulse to blame often comes from our own concern of being blamed.

This is only the beginning of an exploration of difficult conversations.  The book Difficult Conversations: How To Discuss What Matters Most is a terrific resource to strengthen communication and to build trust and respect among team members.

Stone, D.,  Patton, B., Heen, S.  Difficult Conversations: How To Discuss What Matters Most. Penguin Books, New York, NY. 2000.


Dr. Bill Thomas hosts a virtual launch party for his new book ‘Tribes of Eden’!

Dr. William Thomas, founder of the Eden Alternative and Green House Project, is hosting a virtual launch party for his new book, Tribes of Eden.  “I can’t tell you how excited I am for the official paperback release of my newest novel Tribes of Eden on April 2, 2012,” he writes on his Changing Aging blog. “Nearly eight years in the making, this book is inspired by and dedicated to the REAL tribes of Eden — thousands and thousands of people around the globe who make up The Eden Alternative and broader culture change community.”

If you are a Green House adopter or a member of The Eden Alternative, join Dr. Thomas via webinar for a reading from Tribes of Eden. This is a rare opportunity to get an insider’s look at the real people and places integral to the history and vision of The Eden Alternative.  A Q&A session with the author will follow.  Furthermore, every organization that hosts a book launch party will get an autographed copy to give away.

Changing Aging offers the following synopsis:

“On the run after America’s sudden and utter collapse, a family finds sanctuary in the heart of a community thriving “off the grid.” But when the lure of a virtual new world order divides the family, the elders of the community recognize that humanity’s fate rests with a chosen girl and a surprising alliance between the least powerful — the young and old.”

First Read: The Tribes of Eden from Kavan Peterson on Vimeo.