Respecting the spirit and wisdom of the elderly is not only part of the mission at Standish Village, but it is also a core value of the Lower Mills-based assisted living facilityâ€™s new executive director Jean Patel Bushnell.
For Bushnell, the journey to this post, which she took over in September, began when she came to the U.S. from Georgetown, Guyana, at the age of 19. And while she has put a lot of energy into developing her education and career throughout that journey, it is her mother whom she credits for her success.
â€œI got into the area of elder care because of my mother,â€ she said. â€œMy mother and I had an extraordinary relationship. I would describe her as the wind beneath my wings.â€
Bushnell grew up in a home challenged by poverty. She was the youngest of five children who were raised single-handedly by their mother, Sohodra Sundari, after their father left home.
Bushnellâ€™s mother had a profound influence on her desire for education and to serve and give back to the community. â€œShe taught us human kindness,â€ Bushnell said. â€œEven when we just had enough food on the table, if a neighborhood child came to the house, she would ask us to halve our share and give it to that child. She taught us about hard work and, most importantly, about thinking positively. She would say, â€˜God knows best and whatever he gave us, he would see us through.â€™â€
She also learned about spirituality in the Hindu tradition from her mother.
It was Bushnellâ€™s success as a student at Bishopsâ€™ High School in Guyana that gave her a chance to come to the U.S. There, her academic excellence led the government to award her two scholarships to universities in the U.S.
The first led her to earn a bachelor of science degree in food technology from the University of Wisconsin in Madison. After graduating, she returned to Guyana to help work in the area of food processing and preservation and share what she had learned.
After a year at home, the government awarded her a second scholarship, this one to the University of Chicago, where she earned a masterâ€™s degree in business administration. It was while there that she decided to stay in the U.S.
The pursuit of education is an ethic from her Indian heritage, she said.
But her mother has also guided her all the way, she added.
Sadly, her 81-year-old mother passed away five years ago, after she became a U.S. citizen at the age of 70 and began splitting her time between a half year in the U.S. with her children and the rest of the year in Guyana.
â€œBut her powerful hand continues to guide her children,â€ Bushnell said. â€œIn every decision, weâ€™d always fall back on how would Mom see this or what would she have said about this. I am very deeply grounded in who she was and her influence on my life.â€
Treating older adults with respect is also part of Indian culture and another factor that led Bushnell to Dorchester.
Prior to her post at Standish Village, she worked for a year as the vice president of business development at the Visiting Nurse Association of Boston. Previously, she was the vice president of marketing at the United Way of Massachusetts Bay for five years. And before that, she worked for 10 years at Lifeline Systems in Framingham.
And prior to her work at Lifeline, she worked as a consultant in the area of elder care services.
Elders have wisdom, she said. â€œWe should not mistake cognitive and physical deficits for an inability to participate fully in life.â€
The main goal at Standish Village, which can accommodate up to 106 residents, is to foster a positive quality of life for older adults.
The community offers traditional independent and assisted living services for seniors such as housekeeping, meals and help with medication, and also provides a range of social activities from bingo to art classes, shopping trips, a walking group, photography club, yoga and Wii bowling.
Another section of the community features a Memory Support Neighborhood for seniors with memory loss, dementia and Alzheimerâ€™s disease. This program offers special services in collaboration with the Boston University School of Medicineâ€™s Alzheimerâ€™s Disease Center. Clinicians present workshops for staff and family members and both organizations work together on research.
â€œWe want to promote innovative supports in this area,â€ Bushnell said.
Among her goals as director, Bushnell wants to get the word out and publicize Standish Village.
â€œI also want to ensure that our programmatic work for the activities keeps getting richer and better,â€ she said. â€œOn the Alzheimer side, we want to bring in state of the art programs and best possible practices. I also want to continue hiring, mentoring and training the best quality staff. And we want to create strong community linkages.â€
In addition to her work at Standish Village, Bushnell is on the board of directors of the YWCA of Boston. She has also done volunteer work on the issue of domestic violence.
She also donates her time and expertise on special projects in Guyana on occasion. â€œI have a deep love for my first country, but I am a proud American,â€ she said. â€œAmerica help me to realize some of my big dreams; as a woman and as a foreign born person.â€
Bushnell has been married twice. She has two step-children with her husband Bob: Sara, who is 22, and Matt, 23.
Standish Village, located at 1190 Adams St., is one of nine communities operated by the for-profit Senior Living Residences LLC of Boston. The company was co-founded by Bob Larkin and Peter Mullin in 1990. They were joined by Tadd Clelland, who has worked in the industry for more than 10 years.Â