This week we want to showcase the Brunswick home. Opened in 1996, the home has been part of Living Well for almost three decades. This home is close to fully staffed, which is an anomaly in this tight and chaotic job market, and we are super grateful the team over there is going strong. Bess Bryan, Program Manager at Brunswick, has been with Living Well 15 years and is delighted to have several long-term staff on the Brunswick crew. Together they comfort and care for the people they support, while working together like pros and bringing out the best in each other. They are committed to making a difference every day.
The best way to get to know the house is to meet the people who make it shine. The people who live there are incredible and the people who care for them do everything they can to make everyone’s lives richer. The families who founded Living Well back in 1972, dreamed of a place where it felt like family, and this home is exactly that—family.
Meet the People Who Live at Brunswick—
Carol E., 60+, loves sensory experiences and is the matriarch of the house. COO Rod Carlson was part of the team that helped her move in back in 1996, and she has been at the home ever since. She has an awesome and involved family, and her two brothers are local and visit often. During Covid they would often drop meals for the house and call and ask staff what they could do to help, asking ‘How can we make your job and your days easier.’ Bess Bryan, Program Manager, says the family is just incredible. Her parents have passed since Bess started but were always heavily involved. Bess says, “Carol is loved by all, and is a lot of fun with lots of energy.” Carol loves to bowl, listen to all kinds of music (especially oldies), is a lover of TV who watches old game shows and especially enjoys The Price is Right, Jeopardy and the Ellen Show. Over the years she has really found calm. In the past if she was excited she would grab on tight, now will go slower into her enthusiasm.
Tessa, who will be 40 this year, moved in back in 2008. She is endearingly silly, loves music (especially Billy Joel), and loves food. If she could eat all day every day she would. Tessa LOVES the Minnesota State Fair and a good fish fry during lent. DSP Jasmine often takes her for treats like ice cream and coffee. Tessa can walk the house but uses a chair for going out, as it makes mobility easier. She grew up in long term foster care, and her foster siblings reach out once and a while, and she attends family reunions. She has experienced a lot of growth, peace, and calm since moving in. She is happy and content.
Marcus is 30+ years old and was born in December, making him a Christmas baby. To this day he LOVES Christmas. He is extremely bright and very sarcastic, and his facial expressions always give him away. His dry sense of humor is appreciated by many, and he communicates very well even without many words. His parents and sister are guardians, and his sister is his best friend. She catches all of his nonverbal communication, and they have a beautiful connection with a unique ability to understand each other. Marcus loves sports of any kind but really enjoys hockey and football, and he appreciates everything about nature. Bess noticed total contentment when she took him to the Vikings Camp in Eagan. Last year he also had a wonderful vacation up in Ely, to bear country. He likes to get away with his family when possible, or to simply enjoy their visits at the house. If he gives you a thumbs up and a big smile, you will know he is content. But he will also let you know when he is not having it.
Carol W. is 65+ and the most recent addition to the home, having moved in back in December. Her nickname is smiley as she has a lovely grin and lights up a room when she flashes her pearly whites. Carol loves music and rhythm and adores being around people. She enjoys movies and is getting more and more comfortable in the house every day.
Meet the Team Who Make Everything Possible—
You might remember Vashti Watkins from when she was DSP of the week back in February. She has now been with Living Well for 23 years, and is everybody’s mom, confident and best friend. She does her job with kindness yet commands respect as she inspires people to work hard and get stuff done. Bess reports that people want to do well by Vashti, and says, “I feel lucky that we get to lead together. She is the most giving human being I have ever met. I am not sure how she fits everything all in a day. We are a sappy crew, easy to cry at heartfelt moments. I adore her.” Vashti says of Bess and Living Well, “Her being open to me and asking me for my input and expectations makes me feel included in the decisions. From the upper level, it’s like they encourage the staff and appreciate the staff with bonuses. The CEO came in and started coming to the houses, and people from Northland come to see the house and we feel appreciated even more, because they know we are thinking about the staff as well.”
Cleo Tamba will celebrate 22 years with Living Well in a couple months. She is warmth through and through and she exudes home. Bess says, “When she is here there is gonna be fun and happiness. And things will get done.” Cleo really is just such a good human who genuinely loves people. She exudes a very calm and steady presence and is very approachable. In the past she ran a daycare, and to this day everybody’s children are Cleo’s children. She is a natural caretaker.
Bene Okuchuku just reached the 18-year mark with Living Well. She is humor personified and brings so much laughter and loyalty. She is part time and always ready to pitch in and help, often filling in for coworkers. Bess says, “If you need a shift covered, call Bene. She has a heart of gold.” She is so strong and a really great person—and not afraid to take on a challenge.
Phillip Tellewoyan has been Living Well for over 16 years and shines in getting people into community. He is a fabulous go getter and always willing to get out of the house. He even happily takes Mark to his sisters in North Branch, which is wonderful. Always willing to make sure people get to sporting events, to see families, and out doing activities, Phillip is a merrymaker. He is comfortable getting people on the highway and out visiting people, and just be a part of everything. He has been taking Marcus to physical therapy for years, and Bess says, “We all love Phillip, and Marcus’ mom just really appreciates him.”
Martha Sieh, has worked at the home for 15 years. When Bess was asked what makes her special, her reply was, “OMG music, she IS your favorite song!” Martha is always singing. She is always having fun. The families simply love to talk with her and Martha is embodiment of gratitude. She wakes up happy and is grateful for her life, and it’s contagious.
Deb Smith, with Living Well seven years, is a get it done type. She has passion for the work and takes the job seriously. She accepts ownership in people’s health and happiness, and it shows. She has a wide perspective of the work—from their health to the house, to cleanliness—she can do it all. There isn’t much that gets past Deb. Bess says, “She is phenomenal and has taken to leadership around the house so well. She is somebody that we can count on. And is a fantastic problem solver.”
Rose Umerah will be with Living Well for six years in June. She is driven by her faith and leads with that in her day to day. Bess says, “Rose has a quiet strength about her. She is naturally guided to do what is right.” Rose does overnight shifts, so is the one to check on people throughout the night and in the early morning. She cares deeply for others and is a consistent part of the team. Whenever anybody needs her to fill in she is right there to help, she has filled many shifts for others when they need time off.
Jasmine Ojo is the newbie at the Brunswick home and has been with Living Well for eight months now. She has been in social services for a while and is very dedicated to helping people with disabilities live well. Bess says, “We are lucky to have her! She is a fabulous cook and has a great welcoming spirit. The amount she takes on blows me away!” Jasmine is always coming up with great ideas and ways to get people out and having a good time!
Jasmine says, “I’m honored to be surrounded by individuals who think as a whole. Bess is very resourceful, and she welcomes our ideas and input on improving programming and activities. Brunswick has a person-centered focus and everyone from our people served to staff benefit from that.” Adding, “The work culture at Brunswick makes for an excellent work life balance. I feel very supported by our management. The work itself is very rewarding and I pride myself on making a difference in someone’s life every day. That’s what drives me.” She also loves that the people served at Brunswick are surrounded by people from all over the world, so they get to experience the food and music from those cultures. Adding, “We get to bring our authentic selves to work and a piece of home. I recall working on Christmas and I felt so proud to make my Cajun style mac and cheese and honey ham for the people served. Working here doesn’t really feel like labor, it just feels wholesome.”
Last but not least, Bess deserves a shout out, too. She runs the house with deep appreciation for her staff and is very protective of them. She knows they keep the wheels moving and wants her team to feel supported and seen, always. Her leadership style is to put herself in her staff’s shoes, to imagine what is going on in their lives so she can be more aware of their needs. She says, “I believe that your personal life blends into your work life. It is important to me to know what people care about, what they are up to. It shows who they are. Everyone here does awesome things outside of work. I like to have depth with our team, and that helps me advocate for them better.” Adding, “There is no questioning the hearts of my team. This house is their priority, and it is mine to keep this house afloat and to keep them and the people we support happy.”
It really is wonderful to know that within the walls of 36 homes in the Twin Cities metro, staff like Vashti, Phillip, Martha, Deb, Rose, Bene, Cleo, Jasmine and Bess are working tirelessly and in unison to keep our mission thriving. The work is not easy, but it is always rewarding. We are grateful for the crew at Brunswick, and hope to keep this house happy and comfortable for years to come so Carol E. Tessa, Marcus, and Carol W. can age comfortably in place, with familiar staff. It is a blessing to know that a dream 50 years old has had such an indelible impact on the lives of so many.
This place is special, and we hope you will agree. Advocacy is still needed to keep disability services at the top of mind for the elected officials currently deciding on funding increases for the industry. The GOOD NEWS: The Minnesota Senate passed the Human Services omnibus bill, by an astounding vote of 63-4. There are many important provisions in this bill that benefit Living Well and the field in general. The BAD NEWS: The House bill prioritizes other areas, and we need Senate support to hold strong. Please take a few moments to send your Senator another message, thanking them for their support of this important bill and making sure they know their work is not done! Contact your senator here.