Well, it’s time to get back to a more regimented schedule. This means school, football, and the end of pool season. This month, I was happy to be able to interview the very busy Melissa Todhunter, a program coordinator for Brookdale Senior Living in Overland Park. She and I go way back — all the way to the days when she was my English composition student. Thanks to social media, I have had the honor of watching her graduate and establish herself in her career. I also know that she is engaged and planning a wedding. As avid animal lovers, she and her partner, Cecily, have four dogs AND foster on top of that! I am very proud to know this young woman.
1. Now, as a program coordinator for Brookdale Senior Living, what do you actually do?
I plan and implement a variety of activities for residents living with Alzheimer’s and various forms of dementia. These programs include chair yoga, sensory-based programming for those with advanced dementia/Alzheimer’s, shopping trips, restaurant outings, scenic drives, trips to the zoo, and museums around KC, Powell Gardens and many more attractions in the area. My focus is on letting them live their lives as fully as they are currently able to. I also supervise associates, provide continuing education/dementia training for associates, and organize fundraising events for the Alzheimer’s Association.
2. What is the favorite part of your job?
Watching my residents learn new things like yoga. And listening to the stories they share about their lives.
3. How did you become interested in working with the elderly?
A. When I was 16, I got a job doing laundry at a nursing home, and I loved seeing the residents. I became interested in moving up, so I became a certified nursing assistant and began working with them full time. I later became a certified medication aide, and then got my Kansas Activities Director certification, and here I am.
4. How can people in the community reach out to the growing number of LGBT elderly?
Good question. I have only come across a handful of elderly people who were “out” and comfortable sharing that part of their lives. There is such a cloak of secrecy for many in the older population. I hope that people would just be as respectful of those people and their relationships as they are of their heterosexual counterparts. If you create an atmosphere of open communication and respect, it will be much easier to help older LGBT people through the aging process.
5. You also have a great love for animals, and I know that you are very passionate about the KC Pet Project! How many animals are you currently fostering?
Ha! Yeah, that’s about all I talk about. I have always loved animals. I am finally able to devote some of my time helping animals in need (instead of just working all the time), and it’s very fulfilling. Volunteering at Pet Project has opened my eyes! I had no idea the number of animals that come through the shelter system! It was mind-blowing for me. I have learned a lot, and even on the days when I’m covered in scratches and dog poop, I always go home feeling like I made a difference to some little fur face that day. I went a little foster-crazy and at one time was fostering a grumpy Wheaton terrier and six little kittens. I now have two kittens (the other four found forever homes, yay!) and a grumpy old man Corgi mix that comes to work with me
6. Why should people consider fostering animals?
It saves lives. It’s really that simple. When someone chooses to foster an animal, they are removing them from the stress of the shelter environment, providing them with love and socialization, and increasing their chances of finding their forever homes. Fostering also opens up another space in the shelter for an animal that needs to be helped. Pets who receive foster care are also networked through many forms of social media, which also increases their chances of being adopted.
7. You are also planning a wedding! Congratulations! How did you propose to your fiancée, Cecily?
Thank you! We had been talking about doing a scavenger hunt for a long time, so I created one that we were going to do on the Plaza. She and I are fairly competitive sometimes, so we got some other friends involved and split into teams to complete the list. Little did she know that I had other friends waiting for me at the fountain that she loves. I made these big poster board signs that listed something about her that I loved. Everyone had one to hold, and I had one that was said “Will you marry me?” The plan was for everyone to line up, and as my friend Diane walked her over to the right spot, each person would show her their sign and then move to the end of the line. Then I would be there, with the ring, etc. Of course, that didn’t happen. It was a comedy of errors, but it was totally “us.” Diane forgot to let me know they were almost to the fountain. Then she walked her around the wrong side, and we had to rearrange the entire line so it was a chaotic scramble. And to top it all off, I forgot the ring!! It took Cec a minute to even figure out what was happening. She thought that I had gotten distracted and joined some kind of protest!
8. What has been the biggest challenge in planning the wedding, and what has been the most fun?
The biggest challenge in planning the wedding has been figuring out where, when, and how we can get legally married. It would have been a million times easier to just be able to go to the courthouse in Kansas City, do the paperwork, get the license and have the wedding. Unfortunately, to be legally married, we will be taking time off work, driving a few hours, renting a hotel, etc., to have a piece of paper documenting our commitment. We are helping with the Show Me Marriage campaign to push for marriage equality in Missouri. We are hopeful. The most fun part of planning has been … hmmm … well, nothing! Hopefully the most fun will be the actual wedding.
9. At the end of the day, how do you unwind?
It really depends on my mood and how wacky the day was. Unwinding for me could look like a long walk, a glass of wine, cooking, cleaning, taking my fur babies to the dog park, yoga, or binge-watching something on Netflix.
10. OK, I always like to end with a fun question, so if you were a dog, what kind would you be? What about Cecily?
Oh my, what a hard question! If I were a dog, I think that I would be a Chihuahua, just like my little Asia. She is so cute and sweet, but also nosy and bossy. Always trying to make sure everyone is doing things her way. If Cec were a dog, I think that she would be a collie or some kind of herding dog. She is also bossy, but in a more gentle way.