Julie and Krista cranking out lasagna noodles.

Happy New Year from Living Well Disability Services. We hope you enjoyed some time off the last few weeks and were able to lean into tried-and-true family holiday traditions then rest and rejuvenate as you welcomed the new year. While the end of year can somehow be both exhausting and refreshing, one of the things that makes Living Well such an incredible place to live and work, is that we embrace traditions and encourage creating experiences for all to enjoy. Because deep down we know that living a rich and full life means something different to everyone, and that we all deserve to have some fun along the way.

The delicious result of teamwork.

The beauty of family traditions, and leave no room for doubt, our homes feel more like families than offices or residences—is that they can connect us in new ways and often start from a simple idea. Sure, there are the standards, like turkey for thanksgiving, making sugar cookies in December, or telling stories around the fire after a holiday meal. But some traditions start with a simple idea, and like magic become so loved they just must be repeated. And that is how the crew at our Maryland house started celebrating the new year with, of all things, lasagna.

Thirteen years ago, Shelley Novotny, who has been with Living Well for an amazing 32 years, went to a pasta making class with a friend at Cooks of Crocus Hill where she met Chef Antonio. She was hooked, and almost immediately bought a pasta maker. She then brought it to the house and together they created a beautiful dinner to celebrate New Year’s—and have been doing it ever since. Staff, family, and anyone who is around helps make noodles and sauce, and together they gather in the kitchen—much like any family—and make a beautiful meal together.

Elise and Donna.

Living Well Therapy Services Coordinator, Julie Jacob is usually around for the fun, as is Donna Sanderson, Advance Assistant Program Manager at Maryland, and of course Shelley who has done overnight shifts at the home for a decade. Everyone at the house enjoys the meals and the preparation. Krista, one of the people who loves prepping the lasagna, joined Living Well at the very beginning 50 years ago at the age of four. Lucky for her, Shelley has been an integral part of her life for three decades.

Shelley with Krista getting her hair braided in the Caribbean in 1992.

Krista was great friends with Betsy Pate, one of the founding members children, and the inspiration for Living Well when it opened as Dakota’s Children back in 1972. Shelley took to both Betsy and Krista, as well as all the people she helped care for over the years. To this day Shelley considers their mothers, Karen Pate and Grace Young, her mentors as they showed her how to be a true advocate. Together they showed Shelley how to create opportunities for people, by taking trips, going on adventures, and even having Betsy audit college classes. Shelley says, “They were trailblazers! They showed me how to open up to the possibilities everywhere, and that nothing was off limits.” Shelley once took Krista on a Caribbean cruise and to Colorado Springs, accompanied Betsy to a spa in Wisconsin, and went on treasured getaways to the family cabin. They fully lived life, together like a part of each other’s families.

Betsy and Shelley at the spa, circa 1990.

Betsy has been gone for years now, but her memory lives on. And to this day Krista gets to spend quality time with Shelley, who cooks beautiful meals at Maryland for every holiday, and tucks her in at night when she does the overnight shift. Krista’s dad, Dave Young, joins in on many celebrations, as did his wife Grace, before she passed away. He has been part of the New Year’s lasagna celebration from the start and is grateful for the amazing kindness Shelly and the team show his daughter and family. Dave says about the staff, “They have become friends over the years.” Adding, “They enhance Krista’s life far beyond basic care.” He appreciates Shelley, Julie, Donna, and the entire living Well team. He adds that Shelley is an amazing cook and always has a beautiful meal planned for the main holidays, be it a turkey at Thanksgiving, a ham at Easter, or whatever fits the celebration. Shelley said with a smile that back in November as she cooked the Thanksgiving meal there were four wheelchairs in the kitchen, as everyone wanted to pitch in and help.

Krista and her dad Dave making pasta.

Shelley and so many of the amazing people that choose to work for Living Well show up in ways that far exceed their job descriptions. Nowhere is it listed that staff make homemade pasta. It is not a requirement to go on vacation with someone. Nor is it a part of a “regular 9-5” job to become a beloved part of someone’s family. It is also not in a contract to stay for decades. When you realize that Shelley has been with Living Well for 32 years, Julie for 31 years, and Donna, a whopping 44 years—the dedication and commitment to others becomes abundantly clear. And lucky us, here we are with staff so dedicated it warms every heart and brings joy to all who realize it.

Krista, Shelley and Elaine cruising in 1992.

When we look for stories to tell that share our mission and showcase what we do, they usually start with one idea. Then it quickly becomes clear that the story is much deeper and far richer than we could have imagined. Like getting photos of a crew making noodles for lasagna. As you can see, it is so much more than lasagna. It is love and advocacy personified. Thanks to all who show up and work so effortlessly to make Living Well so special!