Jennifer Prell is the founder and president of Elderwerks Educational Services, a not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization offering senior living coordination, advocacy, and education to older adults, seniors, families, and professionals. She is also the founder and president of Paxem, Inc., A+ Accredited Senior Move Managers and an ASEL (American Society of Estate Liquidators) Accredited Organization. Her credentials include SMM-C (certified Senior Move Manager) and Dementia Reality® Specialist. Jennifer is acknowledged as an expert on age related issues, and the transitioning of older adults.
She is a member of Leading Age Illinois, President of Continuity of Care Lake/McHenry Chapter, founding member of the Mainstreet Organization of Realtors Senior Service Committee, Board member of the National Association of Senior Move and Specialty Managers (NASMM), and a member of several chambers of commerce.
She has been on several radio programs, featured on WGN News, NBC News, Washington Post Live, winner of Entrepreneurial Excellence Award 2022, Community Organization of the Year winner 2020 by the Palatine Chamber of Commerce, and winner of the 2019 OWL (Outstanding Woman Leader) award from the Barrington Chamber of Commerce for mentorship.
Jennifer believes everyone deserves respect and dignity. Helping others has always been part of her core. She is married for over 33 years with two wonderful adult children.
What You’ll Learn In This Episode
- Services Elderwerks offer to older adults to help them prepare for aging
- Importance to plan for aging
- Some programs Elderwerks has put in place to help people remain social
- Different housing options for those over 65
- Veterans’ benefits, moving, downsizing, organizing, estate liquidations, etc.
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Intro: [00:00:03] Broadcasting live from the business radio studio in Chicago, Illinois. It’s time for Chicago Business Radio, brought to you by firm space, your private sanctuary for productivity and growth. To learn more, go to firm Space.com. Now, here’s your host.
Max Kantor: [00:00:21] Hey, everybody, and welcome to another episode of Chicago Business Radio. I’m your host, Max Kantor. And before we get started, as always, today’s show is sponsored by Firm Space. Thanks to firm space, because without them, we couldn’t be sharing these important stories. And we’ve got a good one for you today. On today’s show, we have the president of Elderwerks Educational Services. So please welcome to the show, Jennifer Prell. Welcome to the show, Jennifer.
Jennifer Prell: [00:00:45] Thank you so much. I’m glad to be here.
Max Kantor: [00:00:47] I’m excited to talk to you about everything you’re doing and everything ElderWorks is doing. So let’s jump right in. Tell me a little bit about Elderworks and how you guys are serving folks.
Jennifer Prell: [00:00:57] Sure. So Elder Works is a not for profit. 51c3 located in Palatine, Illinois. And we help older adults and seniors with senior living coordination, advocacy and education. And we are a complementary service acting like senior guidance counselors. So if you have a question about aging, you want to join a fitness club, you want to get into health, then anything aging, we can help you.
Max Kantor: [00:01:22] So how did you get involved in this line of work?
Jennifer Prell: [00:01:27] Well, I started another organization back in 2003 called Packs, and we help people pack and move. And during our packing and moving, we noticed that the older adults and seniors didn’t really understand the aging process, where they were going, where they were moving. They didn’t understand anything about the landscape in Illinois. And I thought, hmm, maybe we need to start an organization that just helps people figure things out for themselves because no one likes to be told what to do or how to do things. And, well, maybe you do, Max, but I don’t. I like toys. So we wanted to give people choice. And I thought this would be a great way to offer information and referrals on a neutral platform and represent everybody. So we we help people find any type of senior housing. We know every type of community and any community in Illinois. We know them all. We know who’s good at what, we know who’s not so good at some things. We watch staff turnover, we watch the quality of care, things like that. And then when someone reaches out, we get person centered referrals based on their needs. They want to stay home. Great. Let’s figure out how you can stay home. Well, you want to move Well, let’s figure out what your best opportunities are. So it’s it’s a lot it’s not just a five minute conversation. It includes legal aspects of aging, your health, aspects where your family is, where what kind of lifestyle do you want? Because it’s about you and your loved one. It’s not about us for sure.
Max Kantor: [00:02:54] There are so many complexities that go into it. And so I feel like, you know, for a lot of people, having those types of conversations with loved ones can be really difficult. So over the years, have you encountered strategies to to bring up aging to loved ones or just begin that conversation to talk about this transition?
Jennifer Prell: [00:03:14] Oh, 100%. Our advice is always start early. The more often you talk, the better off everybody is. Everyone in your family should know what you want. So for instance, when my parents were close to 60, actually my dad was 60, we started talking about what he and my mom wanted for their futures every year. My dad’s now 83. My mom’s going to turn 80. And every year we have this conversation. This is where you’re at, This is where you are financially, this is where you are in terms of your health and this is where you’re going to be going should something happen. And it’s based on what they tell me every single year. And it is an important conversation. You are so right and it depends on your family. Some families are really. Not so good at divulging the finances to their kids. They don’t want their kids involved, or maybe they’re trying to protect them from some of their health concerns, but it doesn’t help anyone to not share that information.
Max Kantor: [00:04:08] Now, I’m sure you deal with clients who who aren’t fully healthy, whether they have dementia or maybe Alzheimer’s. Do you have programs for these types of people as well?
Jennifer Prell: [00:04:20] Yes, absolutely. So depending on where your loved one is in their stage of dementia and Alzheimer’s, there are things you can put in place to help them. So if your loved one is in the beginning stages of memory loss, it is time to make sure all of their legal and health aspects of aging are put in place. You need to make sure power of attorney or health care and power of attorney for property is in place so that should something happen and we know it will be because they have dementia and Alzheimer’s. When it happens, you can step in and make sure their wishes are granted. So if they say, you know what, I want to stay home as long as possible, wonderful. Let’s find someone, a home care agency who’s trained in taking care of someone with memory loss in the home. Let’s make sure the home is safe. Let’s make sure that you have the right nutrition in place, things like that. Now, don’t ever promise that you won’t move them out of their home. You just can’t do that. There is. There’s this thing called guilt, and everybody feels guilty when they try to do the right thing because mom or dad said, I want to live in my house forever. Well, everybody wants to live where they are forever. But sometimes you just can’t. Sometimes you have to move to a safer environment where you can thrive. If you stay home with cognitive impairment, you will lose your memory much faster because it’s not a structured environment. A person losing their memory needs structure. They need to get up at the same time, they need to have breakfast at the same time, they need to do an activity, etc. etc. If you don’t do that, your brain tends to go faster, if you will.
Max Kantor: [00:05:55] So when you guys are looking at, you know, services to recommend people or, you know, like residential places to recommend people, what criteria do you use to vet out places to know that they’re a trustworthy and safe place for either you, yourself or your loved ones?
Jennifer Prell: [00:06:13] Well, we tour often. We’re mostly we’re the strongest in northern Illinois. We don’t really go to bourbon often. We rely on family feedback. So we take all of the information that we see and what families give us. So for instance, when we tour a community or a facility, we’re looking at what kind of activities are in place, the quality of care, how clean is the community or facility? How happy are are the residents? Is it an engaging place? Does everyone take ownership of the building because people are moving in into their home? Are you treating it? Are you treating these people with respect and dignity or are you treating them like a patient? Are you treating them as a temporary resident? That is extremely important. No one wants their mom or dad or anyone else to go into a community where they feel like a number, Right? It’s just not appropriate. Everyone needs to feel love. Everyone needs to feel respect and dignity no matter where they are in the aging process. So we see all that we go in and we find how to all of the qualities. Then we also keep track of staff turnover. If there’s a lot of turnover in a building, we may not refer for a bit until we’re sure that the building stabilized.
Jennifer Prell: [00:07:27] If the building is of high quality, they will get referrals based on the person that we’re helping. It has to be appropriate for the person. So if someone is independent, we’re not going to send them to a memory care community. If someone has more memory loss, we’re not going to send them to a more independent assisted living building. They need more structure. So it’s all based on the person and their finances. Their finances are extremely important. So we need to find out everything about the person. We find out about their health, their physical limitations, their personality and their actual income, their assets and income. And the reason we do that is we don’t want to dangle a carrot and say, Oh, you should try this community, but you’re going to be out of money in six months. That’s just not appropriate. So we want to find the best place for the person we’re helping. And then the family feedback is wonderful. We always use it. And then when we do get a negative report, we always follow up on it to make sure that the issue is corrected. And if it’s not corrected, then we stop referring until the issues are corrected.
Max Kantor: [00:08:33] Yeah, it really sounds like you guys do your research and are only going to recommend places that you know you yourself would trust to put your own loved ones 100%.
Jennifer Prell: [00:08:43] 100%.
Max Kantor: [00:08:44] So let’s talk about once a loved one. It moves into to one of these residences. You know, I remember with my own grandfather when he moved in to one of his retired. I met Holmes. He liked to call it Shangri-La. That’s. That was his nickname for the place. But there were all these, like, events to keep residences, you know, socializing, happy, you know, exercise programs. So talk a little bit about some programs that Elder works has to help people, you know, get out and socialize or to stay healthy wherever they may move.
Jennifer Prell: [00:09:17] Well, if someone is staying at home or is more independent, our goal is to always get people social socialization helps people stay healthier. Honestly, if you are social, you’ve got a whole system of friends that can help your your psyche, right? You have your religious component, you have your friends, and then you have your health. We have a program called Stepping Out for Fitness. It is for any person that wants to get up and get healthy. It doesn’t matter your fitness level. You’re not competing with people in terms of their fitness level. It’s at your own pace. It is a challenge. Every month we draw gift card winners. Doesn’t matter where you live in the world, we can mail you a gift card and at the end of the year we draw from a big pot and you can win an Apple Watch or a flat screen TV. Our goal is to get people out of their chairs. And if they’re stuck in their chairs, at least exercising in their chairs, such as chair yoga or tai chi or lifting cans of corn, whatever you can do to get yourself some good health.
Max Kantor: [00:10:16] I saw to that you’re the 2022 Entrepreneurial Excellence award recipient. So can you talk a little bit about like what that meant to you to win that award based on what you’re doing?
Jennifer Prell: [00:10:30] Gosh, it meant a lot. Elder works works very hard for other people. We are not for profit. Everything we do is for others. We can think of ourselves as forward thinking. We adapt to the needs of the society we’re in. So we’ve grown from just one thing. We used to just tell people find senior living well. We expanded that every single year. For the last ten years, we’ve added on resources such as elder law attorneys, financial planners, handymen, plumbers, government officials, education support groups, book clubs, health and wellness programs, education. We have a huge education area where we provide community education and professional education on aging topics. We always are adapting to the need out there, and it was really nice to be recognized for our efforts because we are not a typical not for profit. We are not funded by the federal government or our local governments. We do get a few grants from like the McHenry County. They have a community foundation that supports us. We have the Economic Commission of McHenry County who’s supporting us because we help a ton of people in those areas and we don’t discriminate. So we’ll help any older adult or senior based on who they are, not on their wealth. So we help a lot of income restricted folks and it’s being recognized. We are now finally being recognized for all of our efforts. And you know what? It feels good because my team works there. Took us as off to help others.
Max Kantor: [00:12:05] Oh, yeah. I mean, it totally sounds like it to hear you talk about, you know, everything you’re doing is just absolutely incredible. And so for my last question for you is the question I like to ask every guest that comes on Chicago Business Radio. And I’m really interested in what you’re going to say because I know you’re going to have a great answer. But for you, what is the most rewarding part of all the work that you get to do with Elder works?
Jennifer Prell: [00:12:28] Oh, gosh. You know, the amount of good that myself and my team has done. Like we’ve spread happy and happy is a term I use quite often. It is pieces of ourselves to help others overcome and grow and move on with their lives because we all know there’s an end, but it’s how you get to the end that matters. And that is something that I won’t forget. I’ve worked with. Thousands and thousands of older adults and their families. And the best compliment I ever get is people that are in crisis just breathing. And no longer crying and getting centered and understanding that there is hope.
Max Kantor: [00:13:20] Wow. Well, Jennifer, I mean, it was an absolute pleasure to to talk to you. Your passion for what you do is really inspiring. And everything that you and your whole team at Ellen Works are doing. You guys are just doing some some really great work and we appreciate everything that you’re doing. So it was a pleasure to talk to you today on Chicago Business Radio.
Jennifer Prell: [00:13:40] Thank you so much.
Max Kantor: [00:13:41] If you’d like to learn more about Elder works and everything Jennifer and her team are doing, visit their website at WW. Elder works dot org. That’s elder e. R. W. E. R. K. S dot org. Thank you for listening to another episode of Chicago Business Radio. I’m your host Max Kanter, and we’ll see you next time.
Intro: [00:14:02] This episode of Chicago Business Radio has been brought to you by firm space, your private sanctuary for productivity and growth. To learn more, go to firm Space.com.