Rickie Redman: Susi Q’s Director of Lifelong Laguna takes care of the serious side of aging…It’s not all fun and games

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

As most already know, Susi Q is a place to have fun, develop friendships and further one’s education – a place where active older adults as well as community members can take writing and art lessons, go to jazz concerts, brush up on opera, or learn to play the ukulele. However, Susi Q has a serious side as well. It serves as a valuable resource for the more vulnerable among our town’s senior population.

Aging and death are unavoidable laws of life. According to the National Library of Medicine, the current maximum lifespan is 79.25 years – an .08% increase from 2022 – and in 2054, the Census Bureau anticipates it will be 83.7 years. Yet with the added years also comes the potential for more biological changes, both physical and mental, that affect lifestyle.

Rickie Redman, who took over the helm as Director of Aging in Place: Lifelong Laguna, is dedicated to alleviating as many of these issues as possible. A daunting task (as one might imagine), but Redman is passionate about her calling, and working with seniors has evolved into her recent certification as an End-of-Life practitioner or Death Doula.

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Rickie Redman has an extensive background working with seniors

When Redman joined Susi Q in January 2023, she brought a wealth of knowledge from interacting with the older population. Redman has 14 years of experience working with seniors, including with Alzheimer’s Orange County, where she managed their Memories in Making art program and exhibition, and SCAN Health Plan, where she was a volunteer engagement specialist.

Raised in Newport Beach, she has a Bachelor of Arts with emphasis on Therapeutic Arts, and she is a certified instructor of Birren Center for Autobiographical Studies and teaches classes in Memoir Writing.

Although she didn’t initially plan a career working with seniors (she told her mother who wanted Redman to become a nurse or physical therapist that she didn’t want to work with old people), it soon became her passion. “It was by accident,” she said. “I was looking for a volunteer role with a specific focus on therapeutic art. I researched different programs and the one that resonated with me the most was with the Alzheimer’s Association. They have a program called Memories in the Making and I fell in love with it. I would go on a weekly basis to a memory care community and host painting classes, but it was also about storytelling. Once they’d painted their artwork, we’d see if any memories were attached to it.

“It was a beautiful experience and so after volunteering for five years, the program manager resigned and she encouraged me to apply for the job. I worked there for a few years and then I started working with Scan Health Plan as a volunteer engagement specialist focusing on what was a sort of ‘traveling senior center.’ We would go to low-income senior centers and host social events, so my role centered on programs and social engagement and then connecting with volunteers to make our program more robust.”

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Susi Q’s Library is a great spot to relax, read or socialize

Redman believes fate played a role in her landing the position at Susi Q as director of the program.

“I got laid off from my job and enrolled in an end-of-life practitioner program with the HeartWay,” she said. “In the midst of my training, Dr. Andrea Deerheart introduced me to Nadia and they (Susi Q) just happened to be hiring. It just felt like such a great fit and they were open to my background as far as the end-of-life planning goes – and then obviously with my experience in the past with its focus on aging in place, so I felt it was kismet.”

Aging in Place

Currently, Aging in Place: Lifelong Laguna program serves approximately 160-165 clients in different stages of need: the average age ranges in the 80s and 90s (with one who is 100).

If someone needs a ride to a physician’s appointment (the volunteer waits until the end of the appointment to take them home), a prescription picked up, or their house checked out for tripping hazards, Redman is there to find the help they need.

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The volunteers can pick up groceries, provide rides, technical help, be a walking buddy, or walk the dog. The majority of the programs’ resources are free due to the dedication of 40 volunteers. Services include in-home repairs (depending on certain criteria) and a free home modification assessment.

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Redman talks with Steve Borders, who just came from a Susi Q luncheon

It’s apparent from their testimonies, that the volunteers put their hearts and souls into helping their clients.

Long-time volunteer Debbie Naude said, “During COVID, I shopped at Trader Joe’s for four different seniors. I’d use different baskets for each one. The people at TJs got to know their names, wrote them on the paper bag. One guy started writing notes to them on the receipts and saying how much he was looking forward to meeting them in person! That gave them a real kick and an incentive to get out.

“When we visit, we’re not just checking off a box, the way a home health care nurse might. We have conversations with them about their lives and their interests. Because of those conversations, I’ve been introduced to new books, movies and great places to travel. Volunteering has been a gift to me.

“One of my favorite clients is no longer able to leave her house much because of mobility issues. She’ll ask me to bring her flowers from her beautiful garden, they are so magnificent, and insists I take some home with me every time. We became great friends. I love spending time with her.

“I’ve learned so much from volunteering and the people I’ve met. I love to hear about their lives and travels, and look at photos from when they were young. The connection works both ways; they have made my life so much richer, broadened my horizons.”

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Several of “Stu News” articles about Susi Q’s events are displayed in the lobby

“The services are customized to whatever the client needs,” Redman said.

Here’s how it works. “Those interested set up an appointment for enrollment and answer a series of questions including their present and future goals. We look at the big picture to determine what resources they need. Then they sign the paperwork. There’s no fee to enroll.”

Members can be rich or poor, makes no difference. Evidently, companionship is what matters most to people as they age regardless of socio-economic status. Nor do most seniors want to burden their adult children with their needs.

Susi Q also offers support groups for clients with chronic illnesses.

“We look for what can be taken off the caretaker’s plate so that he/she can spend more quality time with their loved one,” Redman said. “It’s the first time I’ve worked in such a narrowly focused community, and it feels very good because you really get to see the results of the work you’re doing because it’s so concentrated.”

End-of-Life discussions

One of the questions Redman asks when enrolling clients is if they are interested in talking about end-of-life issues. She admitted the answers varies, sometimes it’s a resounding “no,” or “I’m not ready,” or “I’m so glad someone finally asked me.”

“Bringing intention to the grief process can make it less traumatic and bring comfort to family,” Redman said. “Having a death ritual is important to the person who is dying; it’s something they still have control over. The rituals can be simple ones that bring honor to the values of the person and incorporate art and spirituality into the moment, which I feel should be part of the death process. If it is creative and intentional, it can be a beautiful and transformative experience. The rituals require additional planning and time, but the sooner, the better. Some people are not ready.”

Redman wants to change the way people think about and experience death by, “Bringing ritual into grief and death and honoring the sacredness of death as a luminous rite of passage.”

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Redman stays in contact with her clients

The effects of grief can translate from personal experience into the overall wellness of the community. A report by Empathy, The Cost of Dying 2024, states that, “95% of bereaved people experience one or more health symptoms, with 84% reporting negative effects on their daily life,” which inevitably impacts their environment and community.

“I don’t know of any other senior center that has an end-of-life practitioner,” Redman said. “There’s some general end-of-life planning that probably happens, but there’s no one providing the in-home support services we do, the non-medical care for people as they age and providing end-of-life rituals. It’s just not happening anywhere else, so it really is innovative.”

Both Susi Q and Rickie Redman are fervently dedicated to easing the issues our aging population faces by offering Aging in Place: Lifelong Laguna. Since we all must adhere to the unavoidable laws of life (whether we want to or not), Laguna appears to be the best place to grow old.

For more information, go to https://thesusiq.org/.

If you are interested in becoming a member of Aging in Place: Lifelong Laguna, call Rickie Redman at 949.715.8107 to set up an appointment.


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