Cindee Johnson remembers the day well.
"The day we were able to open our dining room again I'll never forget because you heard voices again," said Johnson, senior consultant at Concordia of Bella Vista. "There was a buzz that day going on again and life came back, and residents were able to sit down and have a conversation again over their meal. It was huge."
That day happened after weeks and weeks of Concordia residents forced to stay inside their homes and eat alone due to early restrictions of covid-19.
"In the beginning, we had to close our dining room and that was a learning curve for everyone," Johnson said. "We had to deliver food to every resident, and it was all hands on deck with everyone rising to the occasion. That was the most difficult thing."
All the weeks led to months and the months have now led to a year of covid. Things have very slowly started to get back to normal at Concordia, which has approximately 160 residents, including 20 in the assisted living facility.
In late March guests were finally allowed back to visit their family members and, on Thursday, April 8 [rainout date is April 22], the facility will host "The Concordia Family BBQ Party" for residents and guests.
"We want to celebrate being able to be together again," Johnson said. "After all this time, our residents and their friends and family deserve something extra special. It's a sense of joy. A sense of relief."
The event will be held outdoors, and everyone will still wear masks, Johnson said. There will be outdoor grilling and seating, food, music, games and prizes.
"We have different companies in the area (to) sponsor things," Johnson said. "We will have a putting hole and have a hole-in-one contest, a dessert booth, a root beer float station and live music.
"Everyone is just super excited. We want residents to invite their families."
The event will be a fun way to celebrate the slow return to normal and look back at what has been such a trying past year.
"Early on it was tough, but we are so grateful for our headquarters because they prepared us with the PPE [Personal Protection Equipment] that we needed," Johnson said. "When covid first happened, we were changing rapidly, getting advice from the CDC, our company, Arkansas Department of Health, the governor and just had to go with the flow."
Early on residents primarily stayed in their homes, Johnson said.
"Because most of our residents are independent living, we couldn't say they couldn't leave their apartments or had to stay in," she said. "But the company had guidelines and residents were so good about everything.
"We are grateful the campus we have is where it's located because people could still walk outside and spend time on their decks, and that really helped with isolation."
Concordia had to shut down all activities in the early weeks before going to limited groups of no more than 10 people.
Which is another reason why residents and staff are looking forward to the BBQ party.
"We can't wait," Johnson said. "Everyone is so deserving. We're going to do it big."