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Alexandria senior living facility finds a solution to staff shortages

Vista Prairie at Windmill Ponds hired a family of four.

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Katie (Mattson) Childers,left, is a part-time culinary aide at Windmill Ponds, helping in the kitchen and serving residents at mealtimes. Her brother Chris Mattson, standing behind her, is the long-time activities manager at Windmill Ponds. Michael Mattson, back right, their brother, and his wife, Kathy, are both resident assistants at the senior care facility.
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ALEXANDRIA – Vista Prairie at Windmill Ponds in Alexandria has a novel answer for the staffing challenge that plagues so many services these days – employing an entire family.

While they don’t see that much of each other on the job, four members of the Mattson family are all now serving Windmill Ponds residents, according to Jeff Smith, vice president, external relations at Vista Prairie.

Smith shared the Mattsons story with the Echo Press:

Katie (Mattson) Childers is a part-time culinary aide, helping in the kitchen and serving residents at meal times.

Katie’s brother, Chris Mattson, is the long-time activities manager. Chris and Katie’s brother, Michael Mattson, the oldest sibling, along with Michael’s wife, Kathy, are both resident assistants.

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Chris, who is the middle child of the trio, has worked at Windmill Ponds as the activities director for 11 years. He said the best part of the job is “making a resident’s day, even if the resident is 103.”

While Alexandria winters do get long, Chris eagerly awaits summer in the Alexandria lakes area as he is a long-time volunteer for Let’s Go Fishing, a non-profit organization that provides summer excursions out of the water for not only Windmill Ponds residents but other senior facilities, too.

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Vista Prairie at Windmill Ponds is a senior care facility in Alexandria.
Lowell Anderson / Alexandria Echo Press

Michael typically works the 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift during the week and then he works every other weekend. His transition to Windmill Ponds involved a career shift from being in the retail industry. He used to sell and fit customers for CPAP equipment. Michael is a registered respiratory therapist who worked for 33 years in hospitals and clinical settings.

“I wanted to get back into direct personal care,” said Michael, who has been with Windmill Ponds for a year. “I like the variety, and places like this needed help in the pandemic.”

Kathy, who has been married to Michael for 36 years, is a long-time caregiver who wanted to go to a smaller setting.

“I like to get to know everyone that we’re working with – residents and staff,” said Kathy, who has been an employee of Windmill Ponds for three years.

She loves being able to care for the residents, including a 90-some-year-old resident who she has a close, trusting relationship with.

“She’s really neat,” she said. “I go in and visit and we just talk.”

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But it is also more than that, she said, noting that all the while they are visiting, Kathy is helping the resident take a bath or get dressed or just about anything else she needs to do.

Katie, who is the youngest Mattson sibling, works the dinner service, weekends and during the summer, when she’s not teaching interior design at Alexandria Technical and Community College. She has been at the faculty for five years.

“The residents here each have a gift; there’s something special about each of them that lets you strike up a conversation,” she said. “They have so much purpose left and so many gifts to give. They enrich our lives, so much.”

So why do they all do it? They said it was “good seeds” planted by the siblings’ parents. Their mother, Carmen, encouraged the kids to volunteer with senior care facilities when they were growing up. She was a resident of Windmill Ponds for four years, passing away in 2016. Their father, George, passed away six years earlier. He had operated an interior design business since 1959 and also taught at Alexandria College.

About Vista Prairie communitiesVista Prairie owns nine senior living communities that provide care and joy-filled environments for older adults. In Alexandria, the Windmill Ponds senior living community offers 65 one-and-two-bedroom assisted living apartments. They are a nonprofit organization, founded in 1997. For more information, visit vistaprairie.org

Celeste Edenloff is the special projects lead and a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press. She has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in 2016 to once again report on the community she calls home.
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