The Activity Professional as Advocate
By Debbie Hommel, ACC/MC/EDU, CTRS

In the whole scheme of professions and occupations, the activity profession is a relatively new profession. Although the healing power of recreation and leisure can be traced back to ancient Roman culture, the paid position of a recreation leader was not introduced until after World War II in the Veteran’s Hospitals. In the 1960s’, the requirement for activities was introduced into licensed nursing homes. Since 1960, the activity profession has progressed from providing the resident with weekly bingo games, arts and crafts and church services to a full fledged, therapeutic program which focuses on the individual needs and abilities of a given population.

Even though we have grown considerably as a profession, we still have a long way to go. It is not uncommon for activity professionals to feel misunderstood or under appreciated. A common complaint is that other staff think we just “play” and “have fun” all day. Although the premise of our programming is based in fun, joy and relaxation, we all know it is not as easy as it looks.

As a new profession, we need to assume the role as advocate. This is a familiar role to the activity professional, as advocating for resident needs and rights is part of our daily routine. We need to apply this advocacy work to our role as an activity professional, our department as a whole and the therapeutic work that we do on a daily basis. Advocacy work is about finding your voice and speaking out about a cause. It is important to note that the advocacy voice is a positive, assertive and informative voice. It is not about whining, complaining or blaming others.

How do I find my advocacy voice, you may ask? Every activity professional is guided by personal values, standards and experience. We arrive to the profession with a set of values where we may have a high regard for our elders and a strong desire to help others. We learn standards of care, the regulations and guidelines during our initial employ. Finally, the day to day experience we acquire fine tunes what we know in our heart and what we learn in our classes. From all this, we develop our voice.

As an individual activity professional, I begin to speak out about my skills and the success I am having with the residents who are involved in my programs. I seek education, become nationally certified and communicate to others the importance of having a qualified professional on staff. Some people may perceive this as bragging, but it is simply speaking out about the benefits of trained and experienced activity professionals.

As a member or manager of an activity department, I begin to speak out about my department and programs success. As an activity department, we present a unified front with our skills and common belief in the value of what we do. We speak out about the benefits of our programs and the need to involve the residents in appropriate programs. We become champions for the diversity of our activities and the need for interdepartmental support and integration.

As a member of the activity profession, I can begin to speak out on a regional and national level. We are a lucky profession to have many strong State activity associations as well as the National Association of Activity Professionals. These organizations are a collective voice of our profession. They have spoken out during regulation development, the coordination of salary surveys, and for the promotion of educational opportunities and certification.

Whether you are new to the profession or have twenty years under your belt, your advocacy voice is important. Our profession is at a pivotal point, with recent changes to F-248 and increasing challenges within healthcare settings overall. The activity profession will play a key role in re-defining long term care and what will be acceptable quality of life care in the future. We will do that by supporting our causes of individualized activities, quality of life interventions and alternative living solutions.

“Be the change you want to be.”
Mahatma Gandhi