We continue our “Heroes on the Frontline” series with three more amazing humans who are going above and beyond. Get to know Jeramy Ragsdale, Olivia Griffin and Carlos Coria — all three heroes in their own right.

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Jeramy Ragsdale, CEO of Thrive Senior Living

Jeramy Ragsdale founded Thrive Senior Living in 2009, and there are now 14 Thrive communities throughout the Southeast. Jeramy knows how crucial interaction between Thrive residents and their families is to their overall well-being, so when he had an idea to create “clear connection panels” that would allow the residents to interact with loved ones, he knew he had to bring his idea to life. It took a mere 72 hours from concept to creation of the first panel, and after six days, Jeramy and his team had built and delivered 10 panels to 10 different communities across five states. Get to know this hero better!

Thrive employees, heroes on the frontlines

Left to right: Sebby Kannukkaden, CFO of Thrive; Les Strech, President of Thrive; and Jeramy Ragsdale, CEO of Thrive. The trio hit the road to deliver the panels to 10 different Thrive communities in five different states.

What has been the most significant shift in operations Thrive has experienced due to COVID-19?

We made some tough decisions very early in the pandemic to close our communities to visitors and to move to a ‘non-communal’ living strategy at each community. This means families are separated from their loved ones and meals are served in individual suites instead of in our dining venues. Our much-loved group events were canceled, and we are following social distancing for all of our residents. While this was unquestionably the right decision, the emotional impact of this has been difficult.

How has this shift impacted Thrive residents and their families?

One of our main goals at Thrive is to eliminate social isolation, which is a huge leading health indicator among people of all ages, but especially older adults. We talk a lot about how “great care” is just a by-product of deep relationships. When you love someone, you take care of them. It’s been very difficult for our teams to refrain from the constant hugs and hand-holding they are accustomed to with our residents. While we are constantly facilitating video calls and ‘virtual visits’ and providing ways to keep our residents actively engaged in their suites, technology just doesn’t replace being in someone’s physical presence. There is something visceral and very ‘human’ about being in the physical presence of someone you love.

Where did the idea to create the glass panels come from?

All of the leaders of our company, myself included, publish our email addresses on our website. I love the feedback I get from residents and their families. A few weeks ago, I was reading some emails from family members that completely agreed with our decision to not allow visitors but were also heartbroken at not being able to see their parents, grandparents, husbands, or wives. I didn’t sleep much that night, trying to imagine what that must feel like and how we could remedy it. The next day, I started sketching out ideas for a glass panel that we could use to safely allow visits. The idea evolved and improved as our whole team became involved. The end result is a panel that is custom-made to fit within the front doors of each of our communities, allowing a resident and family member to sit just a few feet apart and visit. We sourced some unique “phones” that allow them to chat comfortably during the visit, as well. We were all amazed at just how much more connected people felt by using this panel instead of a video call.

Thrive resident and family member

A Thrive resident and family member share a sweet moment interacting in person for the first time in weeks.

How do the panels work, and how did you ensure they were safe for use?

Our teams at each community work with family members to book times during the day where they can make an appointment to come and visit with their loved one. Right now, our biggest challenge is telling people their time is up so another family can visit! The panels provide a barrier, and as an additional precaution, we offer masks to both the resident and the family member. We sanitize the “phones” and chairs between each use.

What is one thing the general public would be surprised to know about how the pandemic has impacted Thrive staff, employees and/or residents?

Our team members are some of the most special people on the planet. This pandemic has reiterated to us and shown the public how amazing of a person it takes to not only care for our older adults, but to put their own lives and their families’ lives at risk in order to do so.

What is the most memorable or life-changing experience you have had or feedback you have received since delivering these 10 panels to your various facilities?

At Thrive at Brow Wood on Lookout Mountain, GA, we have a married couple that live with us. The gentleman lives in one of our Independent Living cottages, and his bride lives in our Memory Care neighborhood. They’ve been married for over 70 years and spend most days together. Due to the pandemic, they hadn’t seen each other in about 16 days. We were able to witness them seeing each other for the first time. When she was led up to the glass, her eyes got HUGE, and then even through her mask you could ‘feel’ her huge smile. He asked her to blow him kisses, and most of us who got to witness that moment simply melted. It was so rewarding.

How can other senior living communities duplicate this effort in their own spaces?

We absolutely do not have a monopoly on great ideas. We have shared the plans for the “Clear Connection Panels” on our website for everyone to use. Our only request is you share your best ideas with us as well!

Check out the short video below to see how Jeramy’s panel idea came to life. And find the “Clear Connection Panels” blueprint on the Thrive site HERE

Thank you, Jeramy. All photos provided by Thrive.

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Olivia Griffin, milliner-turned-mask-maker

Olivia Griffin is a Louisville milliner and owner of The Mysterious Rack hat shop in Louisville, KY. With the Kentucky Derby not taking place as usual this year, Olivia shifted her milliner duties to that of a mask-maker, sewing and assembling masks non-stop to get them to essential frontline workers. “What about the bus drivers? What about the grocery store employees? What about cab drivers? What about the delivery drivers? What about all of them?” Olivia asks. “In addition to the medical workers, these other frontline people need masks too!” Get to know this hero better!

Hero on the Frontline, Olivia Griffin

Olivia Griffin is a multi-faceted woman. She’s a Louisville milliner-turned-temporary-mask-maker. She’s also the owner of The Limbo tiki bar. Image: The Limbo

Who are you creating masks for?

We are making masks for the general public for sale on our website, all in order to generate funds to make masks to donate to nursing homes and homeless facilities, and programs in Louisville and Kentucky in general. We are also wholesaling them to other local businesses to help them out. For any orders over 20, email [email protected]. We have wholesale pricing.

How many masks are you making in a week’s time? Do you have a goal in mind for how many you’d like to make?

We are making about 300 a week but expect to be making more as we have hired more people and gotten more efficient at making them. I would like us to be able to make 1,000 masks a week once we have enough help.

Masks made by Olivia Griffin

From milliner to mask-maker: Olivia Griffin is aiming to create about 1,000 masks per week until all needs are met!

Describe what life would typically be like right now — approximately two weeks before Derby — versus how it is this year.

Ironically, there are some parallels between the activity happening this year and what has happened in years before leading up to Derby. I’m working seven days a week, and as late as possible, in order to get as much done as I can. I’m sleeping most nights at my studio (I have a full-size bed in the back). I have a solid team that has my back and is working right along beside me, and I’m consuming some of my favorite bourbons after 5 o’clock.

The major difference, though, is that instead of working so hard to make beautiful things for a momentous occasion that brings people together, we are making practical items that will actually save lives and, in the short term, are keeping people apart. But in the long term, hopefully, they will be instrumental in reuniting people with their family and friends once this is all over.

What has been the response you’ve received in regards to your mask-making efforts and from whom?

We have received so much warm support since we started two weeks ago, ranging from donations of fabric and materials, to lunch and dinner drop-offs, to social media shares, to money, to kind words. Having people virtually cheer us on has been so helpful in regards to our morale and efforts. The most sincere thanks, that make me almost tear up sometimes, come from the nurses picking up masks to bring to the elderly in their nursing homes, and the woman who picked up masks to take to the homeless during their free meal giveaway.

RELATED: From Dress Designer to Mask Maker: How Heidi Elnora is Helping the Front Lines

What can the general population do to better support your efforts? (Material donations, monetary donations, etc.)

We can use all of the help we can get. Monetary donations can be made to [email protected], or you can buy a mask at mysteriousrack.com. People can buy cotton — both plain (so our local artists can decorate it) or printed from fabric.com — and send it to us at 558 S. 4th St., Louisville KY 40202. Also, elastic, ribbon that is 1/4-inch or 3/8-inch, blue shop towels (we cut up for filters), clear “goody” bags, lunch or dinner donations, chocolate and wine. Haha!

Masks made by Olivia Griffin

Who says masks can’t be fun? Here is a selection of masks created by Olivia and her team.

What is the one thing you look most forward to when we’re past COVID-19 — either with work or in your personal life?

My bar reopening! I also own a tiki bar called The Limbo, and I so greatly miss being able to give people a memorable experience of weirdness and performance art.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

While we know there won’t be a Derby in May this year, we are still putting together little Derby party kits, with a fascinator, bowtie, two face masks, cocktails, and cookies. We need to all keep doing things safely (and mostly at home) that keep our spirits uplifted and our sense of community in the commonwealth of Kentucky alive and well!

Thank you, Olivia! All photography provided by Olivia Griffin.

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Carlos Coria, Westhaven Kroger Assistant Customer Service Manager

Carlos Coria is an Assistant Customer Service Manager for the Westhaven Kroger in Franklin, TN. It’s no surprise grocery store employees are absolutely essential — and that they’re working hard to keep everyone stocked up and well-fed. Carlos, in particular, works hard to ensure his store’s customer needs are met, as are those of his employees. Get to know this frontline hero better!

Carlos Coria, hero on the frontline

Carlos Coria is an Assistant Customer Service Manager for the Westhaven Kroger in Franklin, TN. Image: Provided

Describe what a typical shift at your job is like right now. How is it different for you now vs. pre-COVID-19?

During my typical workday, I strive to put our customers first by making sure the front end runs smoothly. I work to make sure we have enough check lanes open and our team is friendly and caring. During these last few weeks, our store has been extremely busy. I have been really proud of how our whole store team has come together to serve our customers. Personally, I have been looking for opportunities to go the extra mile to help others.

RELATED: They Beat COVID: One Family’s Message of Hope

What has been the most impactful experience you have had during the pandemic so far?

One memorable experience I will never forget was when a few co-workers and I helped out a customer who was in quarantine by shopping for his groceries and delivering them to him. Another great moment was when our local neighborhood bought pizza for our whole store team to thank us for all we are doing to serve the community.

Is there anything the general population can do to better support the people on the frontline such as yourself?

One thing we ask for is patience as we walk through this difficult time together. Also, remember to practice social distancing when shopping and follow the 6-foot guideline.

What is the one thing you look most forward to when we’re past COVID-19 — either with work or in your personal life?

Once this pandemic ends what I am really looking forward to is traveling again with my best friends and spending more time with my girlfriend.

What is the most important thing you want the general population to know about the work food store employees are doing right now?

What we want everyone to know is we are trying our very best to keep our store as stocked as we can. Also, we appreciate all the thank you cards and lunch we have been receiving from our nearby neighborhoods.

Thank you, Carlos! 

Know a hero we should feature? Email [email protected], subject line: Heroes.

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