Robyn Sellner embodies the role of unsung hero. As a memory care assistant at Ecumen Sand Prairie in St. Peter, she is modest. She is quiet. She is darn good.

“It’s who she is,” said Ecumen Manager Lisa Hofferbert. “Her care and her empathy and her ability to connect are extraordinary.”

Sellner has been employed at Sand Prairie for 14 years, working in a team to assist seniors in living, specifically those with some degree of dementia. It’s a full-time job, yet still not enough to satisfy her need to help others. She also works part-time for Nicollet County Public Health as a health aid, going to people’s homes to assist them there.

“I’ve had some of my home care clients move to [Sand Prairie],” she said. “It’s amazing to continue that relationship with them.”

One might think Sellner would be exhausted with the two jobs, but despite her soft-spoken nature, it is obvious she is filled with life. Her list of hobbies is long and includes mushroom hunting, motorcycle riding, gardening, turkey hunting and thrift store shopping.

She lives with her boyfriend, Jerry, in Belle Plaine and is close with her 29 year-old daughter, Ashley. She is also close with her mother, Phyllis, sister, Rhonda and brother, Randy.

All of them were close with her father, Ronald, before he die from cancer six years ago. She speaks about him with a sadness in her eyes, but a smile on her face. She recalls seeing how he was cared for in the hospital, and how important that was to her family.

“When I saw the care he was getting, it inspired me,” Sellner said. “I knew I could be a great caretaker.”

According to Hofferbert, who has known Sellner since their time together at St. Peter High School, she has always had a kind heart.

“She has this way of sensing and being there for people,” Hofferbert said.

All about the team

Not everyone realizes the extent or the importance of what they do. If Sellner does see it, she hides it behind a wall of modesty.

“I don’t even know why I was chosen,” she said. “I don’t think I’m that special. We’re all doing it here.”

She’s right, of course, about the last thing at least. A community like Sand Prairie requires a team effort, filled with employees caring for the patients as well as each other. It’s an aspect of the job that Sellner wanted to be noted.

“I just want people to know about the great teamwork among our staff,” she said. “I could not do my job without my team.”

Hofferbert said the team, all women besides the maintenance man, is filled with different personalities that approach the job with different styles. Sellner stands out because of her experience and her patience.

“There is no request too great for her,” Hofferbert said.

Memory care assistants

put families at ease

Hofferbert has felt the heroics of Sellner on a more personal level. When her father-in-law was recently widowed, his family helped him move to Sand Prairie for assistance.

“It was difficult for him,” Hofferbert said. “He didn’t know anybody. He just came here and kept to himself.”

He rarely left his room and never joined others during meals and activities. Where others may have just left him be or tried to push him too hard, Sellner used her method, constant but patient.

“Robyn would go up there every single day and knock on his door,” Hofferbert admired. “Day after day after day, she’d knock and invite him down, knock and invite him down.”

One day, he accepted. He came down with Sellner to supper and she introduced him to new people. And she kept doing it from there, getting him more acquainted and putting smiles on his family’s faces.

“It was invaluable for us,” Hofferbert said. “We didn’t want him to be isolated. For her to help him feel special was such a relief to our family.”

It’s what Sellner and other memory care assistant do every day, taking care of our seniors in a time that can be lonely and horribly frustrating.

“Not being able to do what you know you could do before ... that has to be frustrating,” she said.

No doubt, the frustrations are understandable and workers have to be ready for some of it to come out on them.

“We see anxiety, anger, agitation,” Sellner said. “But it may not be anything toward you. It’s about figuring out what the problem is. Be flexible and calm and creative.”

It can be difficult and it can be taxing, but for Sellner it is always rewarding.

“I like to learn about their past and learn what they used to do,” she said. “They really appreciate you and they help you give them care.”

Sung or unsung, it doesn’t matter to Sellner. The validation hides in the well-worn smiles of the seniors she tends to.

“I know every day I make a difference in their life,” she said.

Reach Reporter Philip Weyhe at 507-931-8576 or follow him on @LNHphilip.

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