A day full of surprises at Turnagain Social Club
I'm sitting in the office of Turnagain Social Club, early on a foggy, frigid January morning, and I hear loud chomping.
"Not to worry," I'm told by Kori Mateaki, owner and president of the facility. "That's just Bunsy, eating some old paperwork."
Finished chewing, the biggest bunny I've ever seen comes thumping across the floor to nibble my shoe.
"He's a Flemish Giant bunny," Kori tells me calmly, as if all offices should have such a bunny. He's a giant, all right, and he's wearing paper diapers, "the largest size I can buy," Kori adds. They're the kind with stick-on tabs. And there's a colorful monkey face printed on them.
I'm awake now. Digesting the fact that there's a monster bunny in a monster diaper in the office, I look over toward the glass-windowed door. A pig is peering in at me, a big, substantial pig, not a pigmy. He's grunting and snuffing, apparently annoyed that he cannot come in. "Bacon, no!" Kori declares.
I take it that the pig's name is Bacon, he's a 40-pound Potbelly Pig, and he needs to stay on the other side of that door.
"The bunny beats up the pig," Kori tells me. "I have to keep Bunsy out of Bacon's personal space. Bacon comes for comfort when Bunsy beats him up."
Another fact Kori notes with pride and satisfaction: "Bacon is potty trained." No diapers for Bacon.
What people can do and like to do
It's the beginning of a new day of adventures and surprises at Turnagain Social Club, a facility providing adult day recreational services and retirement and Alzheimer's care.
Kori seems to take everything in stride, with warm grace and a mellow manner. Bacon and Bunsy are part of the therapies provided there – pet therapy – along with art and music therapy, aroma and light therapies, exercise and recreational therapy, games, movies and activities of all kinds. There's even a large-screen virtual aquarium, its colorful fish swimming placidly by.
"We focus on three areas – sensory, cognitive and physical activities," Kori says. "Clients can do what they like to do. There's freedom. We try to take the focus off disabilities and place it on accessibility instead, what the person can do and likes to do."
I start to think spending time here could really be fun.
"That's one of our major goals, " Kori says. "We do a kind of intake survey when our clients come here, to find out what they like to do, what is fun for them, and then we individualize activities for them. We try to fit in one favored activity every time they come here."
Kori knows some love the pets; others don't. Some like the pig and not the bunny – or the other way around.
"I had one client who seemed very angry and wouldn't engage, wouldn't talk. Bacon climbed up into her wheelchair to sit beside her, eating crumbs from a snack that had fallen on her lap. I thought the pig might be bothering her. 'Don't even touch that pig!' she yelled at me. 'I like this pig!'"
But the bunny – not so much!
If the pets aren't of interest, some of the clients truly love the two little girls who come every day. They are the daughters of Kori and one of the caregivers, both three-years old.
"Most of the clients love the children, love having them here," Kori tells me.
I see that during my visit this day. Both little girls are getting their hair done, paper ornaments made during a craft session added stylishly to their new "do's." Two women are watching intently, smiling as their crafts become hair accessories. It's multi-generational therapy.
Kori leads me on a tour of the building housing the Turnagain Social Club. (Bunsy and Bacon are doing their own independent tour – hopping or lumbering around.) It's 7,200 square feet of what used to be a church, built in the 1960s. It's now completely remodeled. It's sparkling clean, bright and shiny with new furnishings, state-of-the-art equipment, beautiful decorations and artwork everywhere.
There's a light-filled great room with vaulted ceilings and grand piano. There are many activity rooms, including a sewing room and sensory room, a computer room, a "man cave" with a pool table, air hockey and flat-screen TVs. There are quiet rooms such as the fish tank room. Upstairs there are lockers, showers, bidets and changing rooms.
As we wander around, Kori obviously knows each person there that day. Jim sits at a table in the main room, eating a fresh fruit snack. He smiles and gives a thumbs-up when Kori asks him how he's doing.
Over at the side of the room, Carolyn sits in a recliner cuddling a baby doll on her lap. Her eyes shine and she breaks into a big smile when Kori visits with her.
Martha is sitting in the darkened quiet of the fish tank room, a book at her side. "How are you doing, Martha?" "I'm sleepy," she responds. "Well, you are welcome to sleep," Kori tells her.
No one is playing the awesome grand piano this day, but Kori delights in telling me a story. "A new client had just begun to come here. He kept looking at the piano and eventually walked over to it, sat down and began to play beautifully. I grabbed my phone and texted a video of his playing to his daughter. She was so surprised and delighted. 'I guess his music is back,' she told me."
I'm discovering it is a place of surprises and good fun. There is a sense of warmth, kindness and caring throughout. That's made possible by a staff of carefully chosen caregivers. There are eight of them and they have been with Kori much longer than the two years Turnagain Social Club has been open.
Kori, a registered nurse, previously owned two assisted living facilities in Anchorage. All eight caregivers worked for her there and followed her to this new setting.
Explaining the move, Kori tells me, "I wanted to have more of a sense of fulltime responsibility for each person in care when I decided to open this facility. Some of the people in assisted living were sent to daycare, but I could tell that each person's individual needs weren't being met. I'd been wanting to open this center for 10 years!" Kori says. "My father provided the opportunity when he bought this building."
Gratitude and pride in her new venture are evident in her broad smile. And she's very grateful for those caregivers.
"They take care of me and I take care of them," she says simply.
Presently there are 35 members or clients enrolled in the Turnagain Social Club. "I could have 60," she states, so there's room for more. Most come three days a week – Monday, Wednesday, Friday. Some come on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Three current clients come every day. The club is open five days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Families visit often and are encouraged to do so, any hours the building is open. So far, feedback from them has been very positive.
"Every client who has come has stayed," Kori says happily. "And the family members or other home caregivers have told me how much they have benefited from the respite care."
Before I leave, Kori shows me a detailed schedule of a week's activity plans. Who wouldn't come back when a day could hold such fun happenings as cookie decorating, laugh therapy, badminton, balloon tennis, apple birdfeeder construction, a whistling contest or a watermelon seed spitting contest?
And then there's that pig and that bunny.
Anyone interested in knowing more about the Turnagain Social Club is welcome to come for a tour. It is located at 3201 Turnagain Street in Anchorage. Or you can phone 907-677-6770, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The website is http://www.turnagainsocialclub.com.