No better word describes Stone Lodge Supportive Senior Living than “transformation.” In March of 2016, Mary Jo Gibbons opened this “cabin retreat” for those with dementia and their loved ones. In doing so, she transformed her dream into reality. The facility itself, once a small church located in the quaint town of Shepherd, Michigan, was re-purposed into a safe haven that promotes transformations for its guests through “active living, meaningful engagement, familiarity, family and friends.”

Mary Jo’s vision for Stone Lodge originated as a result of her 30-year experience working in long term care. Mary Jo has been on a continuous quest to find better ways to provide care, stemming back to her initial experience with her own father who needed services in a memory care unit years ago. A few years ago she befriended Esther and Jerry. Esther suffered from dementia, and Jerry felt that he could no longer care for her the way she needed. Mary Jo was convinced that she could provide the environment that Esther required here in mid-Michigan. Over the course of the next two years, Mary Jo worked tirelessly to develop plans, secure funding, and remodel the facility to align to her vision for Esther, and others with similar conditions.

Unsure of how to begin, Mary Jo started with a simple internet search for grant help and determined that the Mid Michigan Small Business Development Center (SBDC), located on the Mount Pleasant campus of Mid Michigan Community College (MMCC), would be her main contact. Once Mary Jo contacted the SBDC, her dream took flight. The SBDC helped with business plan development, including market research and strategy, financial feasibility analysis, and developing financial projections for Mary Jo’s final loan package. Business Consultant Amy Fisher and Regional Director Tony Fox were available to answer questions, and provide assistance every step of the way.

While patiently awaiting the opening of Stone Lodge, Esther’s disease progressed forcing Jerry to make other arrangements for her. And, in December of 2015, Jerry began preparing for Esther’s end-of-life convinced that he was losing “his Esther” completely. She had declined in all ways—shifting from solid to pureed foods and losing her abilities to walk, talk, and stay engaged.

On March 28, 2016, shortly after Stone Lodge opened, Mary Jo and Jerry moved Esther to the lodge as its first guest. Esther responded positively to her new surroundings, which included the lodge cat Louie, and state of the art sensory room affectionately named Esther’s Cove after her. This innovative space is complete with150 gallon fish aquarium, beautiful nature videos, hymn music, therapeutic aromas, a comfortable heated//vibrating reclining chair, and lights that dim projecting a starry night sky.

It was a re-awakening! Esther’s alertness and attention improved, and she regained the ability to feed herself, increased her mobility, and began walking with limited assistance. Now, she converses, makes eye contact, smiles, laughs out loud, and even sheds a few tears. Jerry had not imagined he would see these qualities in Esther again, but with Stone Lodge’s assistance, she continues to thrive and regain her independence.

Stone Lodge Supportive Senior Living provides a secure and stimulating, lodge-like living environment, where guests may stay for a day, overnight, or long term. Mary Jo believes that “all persons deserve to be treated with the utmost respect, to feel a sense of worth, and to live a life full of love and purpose in a setting that promotes the preservation of personhood.”

The Lodge’s philosophy of care is centered on carefully-planned programs, as well as an environment that provides for continuous sensory awakening and personal well-being. As a “Person-Centered” care facility, all guests are uniquely valued and supported with deep and emotional levels of caring that strengthen their sense of self-worth.

The Lodge currently employs seven full and part-time employees appropriately named Care Partners. It anticipates the creation of nearly 20 jobs in the near future with expansion. Ten more sleeping rooms will be constructed shortly, when the Stone Lodge enters its second phase of development. It currently has ten cabins that offer daily and overnight short-term respite for those not ready for long term residency, like Esther. A Life History of each guest is a biography posted outside of their cabin door, including information such as occupation(s), family, hobbies, family pictures and more to get to know who they were and continue to be as a person and not merely labeled as a diagnosis.

Mary Jo’s vision and dream are finally turning into a reality, and Esther exemplifies that this program and environment works! “I’ve got my sister back,” confirmed Esther’s brother. Those sentiments are echoed by Jerry who now feels that “his Esther” has returned to where her life has a sense of quality.

In addition to Esther, Stone Lodge looks forward to providing unsurpassed care to many others in the years to come.

Stone Lodge Supportive Senior Living is open daily by appointment. For more information on Stone Lodge, visit www.stonelodgeliving.com, and for more information on the Mid Michigan Small Business Development Center, visit www.sbdcmichigan.org.

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