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The National Certification Council
for Activity Professionals
|Our Mission: The
National Certification Council
for Activity Professionals is a
credentialing body, which sets
standards and criteria to
ensure that those we serve
have optimal life experiences
By Heide M. Cornell, ADC
NCCAP Board of Trustees – Special Projects
Do you remember when "Activities" was fun? Come now, I'm sure you do. Do you
remember when it was o.k? in fact it was even exciting to say "I'm an Activities
Director!" Do you remember the time of simplicity, when you were not embarrassed to
say "I provide fun and entertainment to the seniors in my community”? I do, and let's
face it; I'm not that old so it wasn't that long ago.
When I started in this field (at the wee age of 14), I was a volunteer in an ALC unit of
my local hospital. When I inquired what that meant, I was told these were people
waiting for nursing homes. I remember thinking to myself, "those poor people are
probably sad, and just need somebody to make them smile". Turns out I was right.
(Ah, the wisdom of youth!) The residents of the unit were not that interested in the
actual events held, even though they attended them, they were only looking for
"something to do" or "something to make them forget for a while". So we did just that.
We had lots of fun just "hanging out" together, me and my 25 grandparents.
Of course there was paperwork. I had to fill out slips every program indicating who
attended. I think it took me a whole ten minutes to write down names of people on a
piece of paper and file it in a book. I had to "meet the new folks" every week. My
supervisor made a program out of it called "Getting to Know You". I brought our new
residents a goodie bag filled with puzzles, magazines, snacks, an activities calendar,
and something else although I forget what that was. (Come-on it's been 16 years
now) When I went in to their room, or to the lounge, I introduced myself and gave
them the bag. Then I asked them some questions about themselves like, "what do
you like to do?" and after about 15 minutes, I was on to the next person. I had to put
all of their answers on another piece of paper that my supervisor filed in a pink book
behind the nurse's station. I now know that the "pink book" was the resident's chart,
and the "piece of paper" was an initial assessment.
Then the day came when my supervisor told me that I should really think about
becoming an "Activities Person" because I seemed to enjoy it so much. When I was
14, I was going to become a teacher. I didn't even dream that "Activities" was a real
job. It was a way to have fun. Still, I logged it into the back of my head and continued
on "hanging out" with my "senior folk" as I called them. At 16, my parents told me I
had to get a paying job, so I applied to work at the hospital in the dietary department.
Two years without my "friends" in the ALC made me sad. I went to college and started
my teaching track, and somehow never seemed happy with that choice. I saw a job
posting on the hospital board for an activities person in the ALC unit. (Seems the
hospital union didn't like the idea of volunteers doing real person jobs) It was part-
time and fit in with my college life very well, so I bid on it and got the job. In two years,
some of the regulations have changed, but the job was still fun. Instead of just
"hanging out" with the seniors, I now had to plan at least a month in advance what I
was going to do every day. That was o.k. With me because I just gathered a whole
group of them up and asked "What do you want to do this month?" I even put it on
the calendar and called it "Cruise Director's Club". The residents thought it was
funny, and we would make paper hats to wear to the meeting, sometimes we would
have goldfish crackers. I never had a problem filling my calendar with things to do;
the residents had lots of ideas. There were a few months when I had small
attendance at the meeting because the dentist or doctor was there, or there were
empty rooms because the residents had moved to nursing homes. I didn't stress over
it because I had those "Getting to Know You" papers to look at for ideas. When
people would ask me what my job was all about, I'd say "having fun with the old
people at the hospital." I meant it too. My job was about having fun. After a year back
in the field of fun, I changed my college major and decided that I really wanted to
grow up to be an Activities Director. Wow! What Fun!
Something happened in those 16 years, activities professionals discovered a new
emotion besides happiness called stress. As I entered into the world of activities
directing, I began networking with people who forgot about fun. In fact I began
meeting people who would even say, "I'm an activity professional" and give a
nervous, almost embarrassed laugh afterwards. Soon after people started saying "I
provide diversional programming for people in alternate levels of care." Soon after
that the going phrase was "I provide recreational therapy and life enrichment
services." Why did that happen? Did I miss something? Oh, I know the whole push to
be "more than just the Bingo girl" and truly I support it, but you don't have to hide
behind a title to do that. I have never felt embarrassed saying, "I'm an Activities
Director". Sometimes people say to me "wow, your job must be fun." I've never been
insulted by that. In fact I always say, "yep, bet you're jealous!"
Maybe it is just my personality, but I just can't find it in me to get all caught up in the
fight to be the "best" program director. As long as my residents think I am, what do I
care what they do at the ABC nursing home down the street. I think technology is
great, and knowledge is power. I use those things every day to develop new
programs, but it all boils down to "is this fun?" Ladies and gentlemen, you can have
the most sophisticated "Specialized Sensory Program for the Cognitively Impaired"
but is it fun? Do you enjoy implementing your "mandatory 15 minutes or more room
visits with the socially isolated?" Do you even know what that means? Do your
residents enjoy having you force your "you must attend 2-3 social groups per week"
rule on them? Have you ever stopped to think that it is ok to want to be left alone?
An activity is supposed to be fun. It is something for the residents to help them
"forget" for a while. All of these fancy sophisticated products and programs have
made us forget that. All of the importance placed on following the rules and having
state survey compliance have distorted a once wonderful and important field.
Activities are for the residents. Nobody else. They are not to make your boss happy,
or to serve as a way for families to avoid guilt for not visiting. They are not even
about what your government wants. They are about the residents.
People post on the bulletin boards every day about needing new ideas, keeping
things fresh, stressing over how much paperwork there is, not having time to do the
room visits or the extra weekly sensory programs, needing ideas to get responses
from those sensory programs. It makes my head spin. Those are all indicators you
have forgotten about the resident's. You have forgotten about what they want and
need. You have forgotten that it is all about fun. Let your physical therapist worry
about declining ADL's. Let your speech therapist concentrate on meaningful
responses to stimuli. You should be concentrating on meeting recreational needs.
That is all, there is no more.
Keep on providing your room visits, but only visit people who want you to. If you write
that in your notes, you won't get a dreaded deficiency. Keep providing sensory
programming, but instead of being "fancy" be real. Actually look at your resident’s
assessments for your programming ideas. That's why you filled them out in the first
place. Modify those interests to meet the ability levels of your folks. Don't ask a
perfect stranger what your residents want to do for "Cinco de Mayo", ask your
residents. Heck, you may find out that they don't even know what it is, and would
have been just as happy not celebrating it at all!
When you start to feel the "stress" of the activities profession, take a step back and
look at your resident's faces. Are they smiling? Happy residents make all the
difference when it comes to surveys and administration. Trust me. It's true.
Remember it is not about what you want the outcome to be, but whether or not the
residents are enjoying themselves. The next time somebody asks you what you do
for a living, tell them "I make a lot of lonely people happy". If a co-worker says, "your
job must be fun" don't get offended. Tell them the truth. Tell them "Can you believe I
get paid for this?"
I am Heide Cornell, nationally certified, and I have fun at work. Do you? NN
Kathy Hughes, ADCNCCAP President
NCCAP would like to thank all of our members for their continued professionalism
and their dedication to the field of activities. As a NCCAP certified activity
professional, you have chosen to become a member of the largest organization of
activity professional in the world. Our membership now exceeds 6,300 members.
Our dedicated staff has been working extremely hard these past few months to
process hundreds of applications and renewals. This process involves the
processing of applications and mailing them to trained reviewers who are activity
professionals just like you. They also send out renewal packets to activity
professionals who review 20-40 packets a month. They volunteer their time and
talent to keep things running smoothly. They are the unsung hero’s of the activity
Those activity professionals who want to become NCCAP certified will now have to
complete the MEPAP (Modular Education Program for Activity Professionals) and the
MEPAP Practicum. This entire course covers information that is needed for practicing
activities in the ever-changing world of long tern care. By going through the process
of the MEPAP you will learn that it’s not just “mastering the art of coloring” but will
assist you in learning all of the parts of activity delivery and management of an
Those individuals who took a state approved course between 1991-2001 have had
this “window of opportunity” extended until June 2007. The NCCAP Board decided
that with any “window of opportunity” we need at least 2 and ½ years to hold that
window open. It takes that long to get information disseminated to local associations
and state associations. Even with the information on the Internet, and updates on a
regular basis to the www.nccap.org web site and bulletin board, it still takes time to
get the information processed and into the hands of those who need it.
We would like to thank all who have become NCCAP members. We would also like to
thank all who have helped us this past year become the best that we can be!
1. Federal Law, OBRA, states
that an activity department
must be directed by a
"qualified professional." One
of the ways to become
qualified is to become a
Certified Activity Professional.
2. NCCAP certification is
recognized by HCFA (Health
Administration) as an
organization that certifies
activity professionals who
work specifically with the
3. NCCAP certification
assures administrators and
surveyors that you have met
standards to become certified.
4. Many administrators will
only hire activity professionals
who are already certified.
5. Some administrators offer
a higher salary to a certified
6. Become NCCAP certified
so others will know that you
are nationally qualified and
giving quality activity service to
A. ACADEMIC EDUCATION
May derive from a wide variety
of curricula: Social Work,
Recreation, Education, and
Business degrees. These are
a few of the educational
backgrounds that represent
our certified members.
B. ACTIVITY EXPERIENCE
Activity work experience with
elderly populations, where at
least 50% are 55+ years of
age. Some volunteer work
with elderly clients may be
C. CONTINUING EDUCATION
Current education (within past
5 years): workshops,
seminars, college courses
that keep the activity
professional abreast of
present trends. NCCAP's
Body of Knowledge contains
27 areas of education with
many subheadings that are
D. CONSULTING EXPERIENCE
May include: advising a group,
working one to one, teaching
a class, conducting
supervising students and/or
managing 5 or more activity
The cost of being certified
initially ranges from $45 to
$65 depending upon the level.
Renewal is required every two
years with 20-40 hours of
continuing education and a
fee of $40.
For further information
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(Just $24 per year)