As a small girl, Liz Corns learned to bake and cook from her family. Now as Director of Dining at Journey Senior Living of Merrillville, cooking is her way of caring for residents.
“I want this to be a safe environment for the residents. I want them to be happy and taken care of,” she said.
A native of Lowell, Corns grew up baking and cooking with her grandpa, learning family recipes, and creating memories.
“Every time I was with him we would bake chocolate chip cookies or Texas sheet cake,” Corns said.
After graduating high school, Corns went to college and while she was working as a server in a restaurant, she realized she really wanted to be cooking the food she was serving. She took a position at a coffee house where she grew her culinary education and delved into making items like muffins and soups from scratch.
From there, she honed her skilled at another senior living facility.
“That’s where I really honed in on the culinary side. That’s when I really mastered it and figured out that I wanted to do this,” Corns said.
Corns eventually applied for the Director of Dining position at Journey Senior Living of Merrillville and was hired. Since August, she has enjoyed getting to know her staff and the residents and has found a home there.
“We’re a close team, and we really get along. We’re like a family now,” she said.
Working in a smaller facility has allowed Corns to care for residents closely.
“I’m able to interact with them more and be more active in making sure their nutritional needs are being taken care of,” Corns said.
From creating a more home-like environment in the dining room to adding yummy foods to the menus (especially breakfast), Corns’ focus is to make sure residents feel like they’re at home and are happy.
“I’m giving them a little bit of home. They took care of so many people in their lifetimes, so I feel like we should be doing the same thing for them,” she said. “I want it to feel like they’re sitting at their own kitchen table with their friends.”
During her short time at Journey Senior Living, Corns has seen great success with the menus she plans. Creating seasonal, five-week rotating menus has given her a chance to offer variety, as well as fresh and healthy cooking to residents. And it has shown. For many patients with dementia, a lack of appetite and other issues can lead to unhealthy weight loss. In just under five months, Corns has seen several of the residents actually gain the weight they needed to gain.
“For me, that’s a huge deal. That means they’re liking the meals that we’re preparing for them and that I’m doing my job,” Corns said.
Corns also created the Chef’s Circle, where she performs a weekly cooking demonstration for the residents and encourages them to participate.
“The more activities you do with the residents, the more it keeps their minds from wandering. It gives them a sense of purpose. They just want to help,” she said. “Maybe it also brings back good memories for them, and if it gives them joy for even just a short amount of time, that’s wonderful.”
This summer, Corns is hoping to plant a small garden with fruits and vegetables to be used in meals. It’s yet another activity that Corns can use to build relationships with residents while keeping them healthy and active.
“I want them to be involved in what they eat,” Corns said.
As some residents are dealing with dementia and aging, what they eat is often one of the only thing left in their control. And Corns is adamant about letting them keep that control.
“If they don’t want to eat what I’m giving them and want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I’m going to give them peanut butter and jelly. I want them to be happy,” she said.
For Corns, keeping the residents happy brings happiness back to her. Seeing the residents enjoying the food she cooks with her staff is one of the things about her position she enjoys the most.
“They’re very gracious and say thank you. If they really enjoy the meal, you can see it on their faces. I enjoy seeing them getting excited about the meal they’re eating and knowing that they’re getting something nutritional,” she said.
“I try to take care of them as if they were my own grandparents, or how I know that they would want to be treated,” she said. “Everyone at Journey Senior Living works together wonderfully to make sure they are being taken care of in all areas.”
For more information about Journey Senior Living of Merrillville, visit their website http://www.journeyseniorliving.com/merrillville/.