Danielle Axton credits her grandparents for instilling in her a love of being around older people.
It was her grandmother, Mary Coatta, who allowed Axton to live in her Maple Ridge home while she was studying therapeutic recreation at Douglas College to work with seniors.
“My Grandma graciously let me live with her so that I could achieve my dreams of working with seniors,” Axton said. “We grew even closer as she taught me how to be a functioning adult with her stern but loving ways. Her and I have a fun relationship in which we can joke with each other or cry with each other and she truly is my best friend.”
After graduation, Axton went to work at Chartwell Langley Gardens in Walnut Grove as a recreation aide a decade ago. In 2012, she became the Lifestyle & Programs coordinator and in 2018 took on her current position as Memory Living manager.
It meant a long daily round trip from Mary’s home to work in Maple Ridge but on one occasion, she couldn’t make it home. When Langley was hit by a major snowfall in January 2020, Axton packed a bag and moved into the residence guest suite for a week in case anyone couldn’t make it into work.
Her dedication to caring for seniors has earned her a national award. She is the 2020 Memory Living Manager of the Year, chosen from more than Chartwell Retirement Residences across Canada.
She is one of six receiving managers’ awards and was “shocked” to be chosen. Axton has been at Langley Gardens for more than a decade and “couldn’t imagine working anywhere else.”
The reason – the residents.
“Our residents are just so grateful,” Axton said. “They are happy, they are kind, they are joyful and they want to be loved. This is such a rewarding career, and I am so grateful to be surrounded by such amazing people every day! Our residents are so appreciative of everything, big or small, so knowing that you can make someone’s day just by smiling at them is so rewarding.”
She now works in the dedicated area for residents with cognitive impairments.
“Our Memory Living neighbourhood is an amazing place for residents living with mild to moderate stages of dementia to thrive. Our unique person-centered approach individualizes each resident’s care needs in order to help our residents have a good day, every day,” she explained “The neighbourhood is calming, supportive and most importantly fun. Our team is so incredibly dedicated to making our residents lives better and we are truly one big family.”
The 33-year-old finds working with seniors uplifting.
“This field is amazing,” Axton said. “Our residents have lived through things that we cannot even imagine yet they wake up every morning with a smile on their face and a twinkle in their eye and they inspire me each and every day to do the same! When you go to bed at night you rest your head knowing that you made a difference in someone’s life, and I am so lucky that I get to wake up every morning and look forward to going to work.”
Axton still looks to her grandmother for inspiration. In September, she was able to throw the 90-year-old a wedding. Mary wed her longtime friend, Randy Edwards, 82, in her backyard.
With the pandemic stretching on and one, Mary wanted to be able to spend time with Randy but would just let him move in.
“The pandemic has been hard but we are making it work and I am just so glad that they moved in together so they can keep each other company,” Axton said. “My Grandma said, ‘No man is moving into my house unless I have a ring on my finger.’ We all thought she was joking, but turns out she wasn’t!”
After exchanging their vows, Mary sat on his lap while he drove his scooter back up the aisle.
“Randy had broken his hip a few months prior to the wedding so he utilizes a scooter most of the time. Unfortunately, my grandma also had broken her hip about a year prior so she also has compromised mobility. Once wed, Grandma hopped on Randy’s scooter into wedded bliss down the aisle,” Axton quipped.
Axton was her maid of honour in a COVID-safe ceremony. Since then, restrictions have prevented them from seeing her grandmother in person.
She stays connected with family during the pandemic mainly through technology.
“Being an essential worker, I have limited all of my contacts for the safety of my residents,” she explained. “I stay in contact with my Grandma via phone. We chat several times a week, or I stop by and have a window visit but I would be lying if I didn’t say that I miss our Friday visits or taking her for lunch White Spot.”
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