How I Found a Sense of Purpose and the Birth of Kind Dining

Birth of Kind Dining (RESIDENT CENTERED) 091615Thirty years ago when I entered a career in healthcare food service, I, like everyone else had to start at the “bottom.” At times, I felt the sting of being treated as if food service were on the lowest rung of the organizational chart. It felt awkward at first, like I was just there to clock in and clock out and my job wasn’t making any significant impact on anyone, even myself. It was clear to me that the “norm” for nursing homes was to have a clinical and sterile dining room where the dining experience was more about therapeutic diets, calories and efficiency and I had a sense that residents were negativity affected by this. It really struck a chord with me and I wanted to help in some way even though, “it wasn’t my job.”

I started observing the residents and staff interaction. I learned their behaviors, clued in and listened to the struggles on each side, from the servers and the residents. I started asking more questions about how the system worked, and why it worked this way.

I loved cooking and serving customers in my previous career owning restaurants in Alaska. My friendly interaction with customers in a quality atmosphere created an enjoyable dining experience that customers expected and kept them coming back for more. I asked myself why we don’t treat and serve our seniors in the same manner. No one likes eating in a hospital!

One day as I was cooking, as managers do a little bit of everything, I put my restaurant skills to work. I remember the day I cooked a meal and ran to the dining room to see how the residents liked it. That was quite forbidden at the time. Not a common occurrence for the manager to connect one-on-one. But, for me, I wanted to know more about my customers. I wanted to know how they liked my food. The more they liked it, the better they felt. I could see the change as residents responded to my interest in them, along with the nutritional benefits of eating food that someone who cared, prepared for them. I knew it was just a matter of time before the momentum would swing.

A light bulb went off and I found my purpose.

I made a promise then and the seed was planted, that when the time was right I would create a hospitality training program that would focus around the dining environment in senior living communities and improve staff relationships and residents’ lives. Kind Dining® was born. I found my purpose in the dining room and it’s my joy to help others, no matter where they are in the structural hierarchy, find theirs.

About Cindy Heilman

Cindy is the founder and owner of Kind Dining®, which she began in 2006. She’s traveled across the country and Canada working with and training senior living communities that want to create an exceptional dining experience for their residents and staff. In addition, she certifies select professionals in her Kind Dining® philosophy and provides tools, now in an eLearning format, that make learning stick and help people put insights into action. As a result of her work, clients often share their staff has a new sense of purpose, get along better and keep their focus and energy on what matters most. In fact, she wrote a book, Hospitality for Boomers on how to attract residents and keep good team members. In her free time, she enjoys walking Oregon trails and cheering on her favorite soccer teams, the Portland Thorns and Timbers.

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