On-site activities keep High Desert Haven residents engaged during pandemic

Staff at High Desert lead singalongs, a popular event. | Submitted photo

There is more to life in retirement than whiling away the hours playing bingo.

There can certainly be singing and dancing, even without setting foot in a nightclub.

For proof, consider the High Desert Haven.

It is an assisted living and memory care center in Ridgecrest, where residents enjoy a spate of activities designed to keep the mind engaged and days far from boring.

Activity director Heather Gleason has spent the last eight years helping staff add a spark to the activities that make High Desert a special place, even in the era of COVID-19.

“Prior to the pandemic,” Gleason said. “We would take the residents on various outings, such as going to the Laws Railroad Museum in Bishop, fishing in Lone Pine and picnics at the base of Whitney Portals. Of course, we have had to shift gears and re-think activities for now.”

If the residents can no longer attend outside activities, the activities can come to the residents. Live animal visits — think traveling petting zoo — have become a safe option. Two of the most popular animal visitors have been donkeys and burros.

A local organization, the California Breakfast Burrito Club, provides the donkeys. Other four-legged visitors have also included Clydesdale horses.

“The residents just light up when we get a visit from the donkeys,” Gleas0n said. “A few years back, we had two orphan baby burros visit our facility from the local Bureau of Land Management wildlife facility, and I would say that is when our donkey love and obsession started.”

Other animals have graced the resident hall at High Desert, thanks to the local 4-H club and its goats, lambs and bunnies.

The post-COVID-19 game plan has meant on-site celebrations for birthdays, holidays and other special merry-making have taken on added significance.

Milestone birthdays marking residents turning 112, 100 and 101 are routine, Gleason said. Ditto for beanbag toss, horseshoes, and singalongs.

“Anything with music was highly attended,” Gleason said. “Music is one of the best things to utilize at an assisted living home.”

She and two co-workers perform a weekly musical revue for residents, complete with dance routines.

“We even get the residents up and dancing for some of the songs,” Gleason explained. “One of the residents, and mine, favorite dancing days were when we portrayed the Andrews Sisters. The residents really sang and clapped along! It was wonderful.”

And for those times that call for more sedate entertainment, there’s a ready option.

“Cards and bingo are definitely games played regularly,” Gleason said. “We still do a lot of bingo.”

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