Come on a trip with me to the Genesis House, an Intermediate Care Facility (ICF) on Ann Storck Center's (ASC) Fort Lauderdale campus. Walk through the big double doors, and you'll most likely be greeted by Alek Rivera and his contagious smile.
Alek is a long-time resident of Genesis House. His favorite color is blue. He loves Halloween and Christmas. Just in the first week of December, Alek has already visited Santa five times. Aside from greeting visitors at the door, you'll most likely catch Alek hanging out with staff in the offices. Alek moved into the Genesis House over 20 years ago at the age of nine. This is his home, and he radiates love for this place and the people in it.
ICF's are residential facilities that include around-the-clock nursing care, therapies and individualized services to residents. Alek spends five days a week attending ASC's Shooting Star program, an in-house education and recreation program for residents. I joined Alek and his Shooting Star peers for a morning of activities led by Gracie Fletcher, head of recreation at the Genesis House. Fletcher's a veteran employee with over 30 years at ASC, and it shows in her relationships with the residents and staff. She's a gentle yet persistent teacher, knowing when to push residents for participation and when to give them breaks.
Gracie starts by reading "Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed." She has Alek count along using his fingers, and she asks him to repeat sounds and words. Alek responds with enthusiasm. Gracie continues with puzzles and then brings over his communication device, a tablet with a special application that Alek can use to communicate, play songs and express himself in a variety of ways. He chooses to play his favorite song of the season, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Gracie sings along, sprinkling sign language throughout. Alek smiles and participates where he can.
Gracie then gives him a break and massages his right arm and hand, usually tightly coiled at his side. She patiently works her way down his arm to his hand and along his fingers, encouraging the muscles to relax and his hand to open.
This tender moment is one of many I witness throughout my time in Genesis, and it's one of the reasons Alek's parents Inga and Carlos Rivera are so dedicated to Ann Storck Center.
If you have questions about Ann Storck Center's ICF facilities and its Shooting Star program, call (954) 584-8000.