“I get to nurture and nourish through food, and I just love that,” says Karen Lenhardt as she sits outside in St. John’s courtyard.
Lenhardt was not always sure she wanted to work in either the healthcare or nutrition fields but has since spent the past decade working as a registered dietitian at St. John’s Home.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I started college, but I always loved science,” says Lenhardt when talking about her undergrad education at SUNY Plattsburg.
“I took a nutrition course,” she says, “and I really fell in love with the science part of it and the science behind nutrition and what we eat.”
The “vast field of nutrition studies” interested Lenhardt so much she went on to obtain her master’s in nutrition at Clemson University. In June of 2009 she started working part-time for St. John’s in the Clinical Support department, then switched over to the dietitian team.
Lenhardt shows a clear passion as she talks about working as a dietitian. She says the “the people I help with food and nutrition is what keeps me coming back.”
“It is amazing,” Lenhardt says excitedly, “that food can actually make you feel better, and then you look into what you put into your body to fuel and help you, it is just amazing.”
For over 14 years Lenhardt has been sharing her passion with the residents and the employees of St. John’s Home. One colleague says that Lenhardt’s “incredible work ethic and commitment to her residents are among her fiercest qualities.”
“It is great working with [residents]. food is a social experience, and I get to be a part in making a person feel better,” Lenhardt says.
Many of Lenhardt’s colleagues and dietitian team members applaud her for using her time to “provide regular social interaction and just find out how their day is going.” “Karen is also passionate about her role as a dietitian, making sure our nutrition standards of practice are followed each and every day,” notes another team member.
“We aim to work and make the situation better,” Lenhardt says when discussing her day-to-day life as a dietitian. She says her “fabulous department” focuses on maintaining nutritional needs of the residents, maintaining GOH guidelines, while also incorporating variety into residents’ diets.
“I really do believe we can nurture through food,” says Lenhardt. “Hopefully we can improve the life of a resident through their food, through the enjoyment of eating.”
Lenhardt notes that many St. John’s Home residents are on particular diets or must ingest food certain ways, so her and her team always “consider those circumstances, but we really try to make it an enjoyable experience.”
Her work does not just stop with long-term residents as she also works with rehabilitation guests. Lenhardt says she works closely with the St. John’s Rehabilitation team and provides her nutritional services and expertise to people in physical recovery.
“Say a person comes in for rehab after a hip replacement, I can work with them, make a plan to ensure they are correctly fueled to help the recovery process.”
Helping others is not the only thing that fuels Lenhardt’s commitment to her job. She says it is the residents that make her feel fulfilled. “I have formed some great relationships with residents, which is why a place like this is better than working in a hospital.”
Lenhardt says, “what keeps me coming back, is hands down, the elders.”