BRATTLEBORO — Tears were welling up in the eyes of several on Wednesday afternoon, as the Recreation Director of Pine Heights said her good-byes to the residents and staff of the facility.
Penny Carnevale has worked at the nursing home for nearly 21 years but said it's time for her retirement. While she is looking forward to having the time to herself, she expressed and emphasized how deeply she will miss the work that is more than just a job to her.
"Just being with these wonderful people and families, the families are fabulous, and the volunteers and staff," said Carevale describing the highlights of her work. "The work is very rewarding, and you're in a great position to advocate for these people."
Carnevale plans the activities for the residents, designs the facility's calendar, screens volunteers, assesses residents and provides solace and compassion to her residents and staff. On Wednesday afternoon, she was celebrated for her work and dedication to the company and its clients. Even at her own retirement party, Carnevale tried to care for the residents by serving them food and fruit punch, but fellow staff members encouraged her to relax. After Carnevale went around to the residents, greeting them with a smile and her charismatic voice, a resident presented her with roses, kind words and a couple of other gifts.
"When thinking of Penny, we the residents of Pine Heights think of her as patience, understanding and love, which she shows to each resident," said Thom Crowninshield, a resident and president of the Resident's Counsel at Pine Heights. "For appreciation of 21 years, we would like to present you with a gift certificate to Peter Havens, and if you need a date I'll go."
Crowninshield also presented Carnevale with a walking cane and he joked, "It may come in use in later years" and referenced the saying, "The old gray mare, she ain't what she used to be."
Crowninshield told the Reformer that his mother died recently and Carnevale has served as a mother to him since her death. He added that if there was word he had to pick to describe her it would be, "Awesome."
While some elderly homes have been stuck with the stereotype of only playing Bingo, Carnevale highlighted extra curricular activities she offered for the residents such as fishing, gardening, bowling, apple picking, listening to music, playing games inside the building or going out to the movies or for ice cream.
Karen Emerson, who worked alongside Carnevale for 18 years at Pine Heights, became choked up with emotion when trying to describe the kind of person Carnevale was to residents and staff. "She was the best boss and we had a lot of fun and she's just the most caring, loving person and we're going to miss her. She was always there for the residents and whatever she could do for them, she would do."
Emerson spoke about an inspiring memory of when Carnevale worked with a resident who had a "rough personality. Emerson said the resident seemed to always be dissatisfied with the temperature of his coffee, but Carnevale was persistent in meeting the individual's needs and would bring him coffee every morning, despite his sometimes disgruntlement.
Other staff members such as Mike Rivers, Administrator at Pine Heights, noted that Carnevale made his transition into the job "easy." Aside from the support she provided for him when he first got the job in 2011, Rivers said Carnevale puts most of her attention on the residents.
"She has a good concept of making people do things that you wouldn't normally get done in a nursing home, outside of just the stigma of bingo everyday," said Rivers.
Rivers added that Carnevale has even served as somewhat of the "face" of Pine Heights as she has been at the job for more than two decades and has been there for the residents. Rivers further noted, Penny Carnevale brought years of knowledge and experience and demonstrated her ability to communicate with all different types of residents.
"I don't think we're losing her totally; I think we'll still have her around. She set a good example of what an activities department should be," Rivers said.
According to Rivers, Pine Heights cannot officially announce the person they will hire to replace Carenvale's position, but he did not that regardless, she will be missed.
"You don't replace a Penny, she's irreplaceable.
Carnevale noted there have been some challenges with the work and system, but said in her experience it was always best to work to find a solution rather than work against an issue. In addition, she said it worked best to create a rapport with the residents and listen their desires.
"For most of the people here it is the end of life and they're here for the rest of their life, so you just try to make their quality of life good and do what they want to do," said Carnevale.
Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275