Communication is key

Riderwood’s TV station keeps everyone informed and entertained

Created date

August 12th, 2020
Riderwood Executive Director Gary Hibbs is seen here on the community television, wearing a red plaid shirt.

Riderwood Executive Director Gary Hibbs has appeared frequently on Riderwood’s in-house TV station to provide critical information to community members during the coronavirus pandemic.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S., the staff at Riderwood reacted nimbly, quickly making changes to keep residents safe, comfortable, and healthy while stay-at-home directives were in place. The dining services team pivoted to begin delivering meals to residents’ doors rather than serving them in the on-site restaurants, and all levels of staff pitched in to operate a concierge service to deliver groceries, mail, and other essentials to residents’ apartment homes while they were sheltering in place.

Must-see TV

One of the most interesting ways the staff adjusted to the unprecedented circumstances was to turn the in-house television station into a central hub for information, communication, and entertainment. With a state-of-the-art television studio already up and running and ready to deliver critical information, managing the crisis was a little easier at Riderwood.

“Shortly after the COVID-19 crisis began, the Riderwood TV team realized that our existing schedule catered to busy residents who spent a lot of time out and about in the community,” says Chris Taydus, manager of the Riderwood TV studio. “We quickly altered the schedule to provide more variety of programming every day to give our residents more Riderwood-centric programming to watch. We also started airing movies every night and later started airing DVD courses for the residents to continue to exercise their brains.”

An important cornerstone of Riderwood TV’s COVID-19 programming was a daily show with Executive Director Gary Hibbs. At the height of the crisis, he appeared seven days a week to provide updates on infection rates and logistical information about Riderwood’s operations. He also answered residents’ questions and provided some much-needed reassurance.

“It has become like President Roosevelt’s fireside chats,” Hibbs says. “In this time of fear and anxiety, it’s blown me away the overwhelming nature of residents’ emails. One resident said, ‘If you’re smiling, I know it’s going to be okay.’”

Hibbs says his email inbox has been flooded with messages from community members and their families thanking him for his calm and steady leadership during the pandemic.

“I look forward to seeing you every morning,” Mary Wagner wrote in an email to Hibbs. “Thank you for caring and being there for us. You are my joy in the morning.”

Hibbs also brought resident and staff guests onto his show to provide updates about different aspects of life on campus. Guests have included a community member who is a retired physician who recovered from COVID-19 and the staff member who orchestrated Riderwood’s new concierge service.

“Every initiative we roll out, we’re able to give the rationale,” Hibbs says. “People send emails and then I can go on the program and clear up any confusion. It has been a good complement to whatever we put out in writing.”

Under normal circumstances, Riderwood’s TV studio is staffed with dozens of resident volunteers who operate cameras, host shows, and do everything else needed to produce programs. While social distancing was required, community members were still able to contribute to the studio’s operations by using technology such as Zoom and FaceTime to conduct interviews and appear on shows. 

Elaine Tiller actually had her first opportunity to appear on Riderwood’s in-house TV station during the coronavirus pandemic. She wrote a powerful article about grieving after her son’s wife’s mother passed away. 

“I was hurting and decided to write my thoughts for myself. I was grieving a lot of things, not just this death in our family. I was also concerned about job loss for our kids, the economy—there were all kinds of different levels of grief going on in me, so I wrote this article to sort that out for myself and I realized it might help other people.”

Elaine shared what she wrote with many people in her social networks and received feedback that people did indeed find it helpful. When Taydus and the TV studio staff read it, they asked Elaine to share her insights via a Zoom interview to appear on Riderwood TV.

“It was about the levels of grief that we are feeling and rituals we can use while we are locked away from everybody to help ourselves and lift our spirits,” Elaine says.

Something for everyone

Of course, sheltering in place also meant finding new ways to keep entertained and connected—and at Riderwood, the TV station was able to fill that need as well. The fitness staff provided exercise videos to help residents stay fit at home. The TV studio also teamed up with staff from other departments to put on weekly virtual social hours, featuring interactive events like charades using video conferencing technology.

Taydus and his team also launched a new show during the COVID-19 crisis called Riderwood TV Live!, a live television program three times a week that focused on connecting and entertaining community members in fun ways such as trivia where neighbors could participate from home using their computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

“Another popular program was Riderwood TV Live! Radio. The show was an all-music hour where I took song requests live from residents via phone and e-mail,” Taydus says. “One resident even called in to express that she didn’t care what we played, but to ‘keep it up’ as she was ‘dancing along’ in her apartment.”

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