UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- When Peter Kretschmer began his internship at Juniper Village at Brookline in January, he could not have anticipated how the COVID-19 pandemic would transform the world—and his work along with it.
Kretschmer, a senior majoring in Health Policy and Administration, chose Juniper Village as the site for his for-credit internship because, as a local rehabilitation and skilled care community, it was devoted to the values he had absorbed as a lifelong resident of Happy Valley.
Growing up in State College, he lived with his elderly grandparents, an experience that opened his eyes to the difficulties of supporting seniors as they age.
“I didn’t realize it at the time,” he said, “but I think this was the start of my commitment to helping the most vulnerable members of my community.”
His firsthand involvement with caring for elderly family members led to a passion for forging an inclusive sense of community across generational lines. He now hopes to become a licensed nursing home administrator, and he saw Juniper Village as a place to harness his enthusiasm for helping others. What he could not have known when he embarked on his internship was that his neighbors and community would soon be tested under unprecedented circumstances.
By March, Kretschmer had already spent several months rotating through administrative units, including the dining, housekeeping, connections, and maintenance departments. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, he moved swiftly to adapt to new protocols as the situation evolved in real time. While still maintaining his rotational duties, he took on new responsibilities, assisting with infection control, performing policy writing and staying up to date with the rules and regulations that were being issued by the Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Gov. Tom Wolf.
Still, as shelter-in-place orders and social distancing guidelines have persisted across several months, one of the most urgent tasks for caregivers has simply been to interact with residents. Without the prospect of visits from family and friends, the staff knew that residents could be prone to feelings of isolation and loneliness. To combat this risk, Kretschmer worked with the activities department to engage in one-on-one interactions with residents, creating meaningful connections while still maintaining safe social distancing.
“The pandemic has underscored to me just how important it is to have a well-coordinated team that trusts the expertise of its members and devotes itself to the highest standards of care,” he said. “I’m incredibly grateful for the professionalism shown by the staff of Juniper Village. They amaze me every day.”
Kretschmer will cross the threshold of 1,000 internship hours in August, and he recognizes that many people have helped him along the way. He credits the Sharon and Richard Power Open Doors Scholarship with providing the resources that allowed him to devote his time to his internship and worry less about finding a paid, part-time job, especially when the pandemic arrived and reshuffled priorities.
“It made a world of difference to me,” he said, noting that with tuition and other expenses looming, he may not have been able to help the residence of Juniper Village had he had not received support himself.
To Kretschmer, however, interacting with residents is less a responsibility than a true gift.
“It’s always gratifying to genuinely connect with older members of our community,” he said. “You may find out someone is a decorated war veteran or once worked as an aide to the president. Sure, they’re wearing facial masks, but their kindness and gratitude shows through their eyes. That’s when you know that all this hard work has been more than worth it.”
"We Are" stories
The "We Are" spirit is perhaps more important than ever before, and Penn Staters everywhere are coming together in new and amazing ways. During these challenging times, our community is continuing to realize Penn State's commitment to excellence through acts of collaboration, thoughtfulness and kindness. As President Eric Barron has written on Digging Deeper, this truly is a "We Are" moment — and we want to hear your "We Are" stories.
Visit news.psu.edu/WeAre to share how you or other Penn Staters are supporting each other to overcome the collective challenges presented by COVID-19. We are!