Ashlie Velazquez Collins at Brookdale Urbana Assisted Living in Urbana on Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 27, 2023.
Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette
Ginger and Steve Velazquez had a requirement of each of their children during their summer break — they had to spend part of it doing volunteer work. Daughter Ashlie’s assignment at age 15 was to help at the local nursing home.
“I passed out lunches to them. Then I started playing cards regularly with the ladies,” she said.
Most young people would rather be anywhere else than a nursing home. That was true for her at first (“It was really scary,” she said), but she grew to love spending time there and later got a job in the kitchen and helped with social services and marketing.
“I started to really like it,” she recalls. “Not many parents” require their children to get out and volunteer. “It’s summer break, and we shouldn’t be sitting at home. We should be doing things for our community.”
She didn’t just volunteer at the nursing home. She also detasseled corn for three years and is one of the rare people who enjoyed doing that.
Fifteen years later, Ashlie Velazquez Collins has used that love of working with seniors into her job as sales manager at Urbana’s Brookdale Urbana Assisted Living.
Velazquez Collins has a heart for the older generation.
They’re very vulnerable, and all they want is someone to talk to.
Velazquez Collins has an open-door policy in her office. Residents are always welcome to come in and visit. One resident makes it a point each day to come see her. One day this week, Velazquez Collins had a resident helping in her office with an event and shadowing her.
In her job, Velazquez Collins, who has been with Brookdale for four years, meets with families looking for assisted-living options for their loved ones.
“I like to be a resource in the community for families looking for information and resources and support,” the Shiloh High School grad now living in Mahomet with her family said.
“One thing I will say about assisted living, which I’m truly passionate about, a lot of … seniors are at home and not active. When you see them come to assisted living, they light up” and enjoy the activities and the social aspect of it.
“It helps them have a longer and more active life.”
She said many seniors resist leaving their home, and their children are reluctant to do what Velazquez Collins believes is best for them.
“What I learned is you have to be the adult in the room,” she said. “The tables have turned. Keep them included as well, but really show them the benefit of what assisted living is.
“It’s better to be proactive than reactive (before) something happens and their only choice is a nursing home because they don’t qualify for assisted living.”
Velazquez Collins started working at the Newman nursing home at 16, from 4 to 7 p.m. in various roles, including server, cook, activities and social services.
For those who might be timid about trying, Velazquez Collins has some advice: “I always tell people if you’re passionate about something, you can do it.
“I don’t have a college degree. I worked my way up and have worked in the community as much as possible.”
Her work with seniors and in the community have been lauded, having been named to the Young Athena list which recognizes emerging female leaders for excellence in their profession. She was selected as one of the 40 under 40 individuals — leaders under the age of 40 who are making a difference in the Champaign-Urbana area.
Velazquez Collins has been offered a chance to work as an administrator but said it’s not for her. She has worked in various roles in in several senior living communities.
She is a certified dementia practitioner and leads a support group.
With two young children, one in day care and one in kindergarten at Mahomet, Velazquez Collins has also developed a passion for helping youth.
She serves on the Executive Club board of Champaign County, which she calls the favorite organization of which she is a part. She serves as the club’s program chair.
“It’s a professional women’s networking group that provides opportunities for members to connect shared experiences and grow their businesses,” Velazquez Collins said.
She chairs the Aging Services Secret Senior Santa yearly event that provides Christmas presents for low-income seniors.
Velazquez Collins also serves on the board of Girls Go For It, which works with young girls in Champaign-Urbana who need support, and the Mahomet Area Youth Club board.
She ran for the Eastern Illinois Food Bank prom court and raised $10,000 and will graduate next year from the United Way Emerging Community Leaders Program.
She and her husband, Bradley, have a 5-year-old daughter, Lynleigh, and a 2-year-old son, Barrett.
Six local 4-Hers win scholarships
Six local residents have each earned $1,000 scholarships through the Illinois 4-H Celebration of Excellence.
They are Caleb and Dylan Zwilling, Fenley Lopez, Jeremiah Todd, Paige Siegmund and Sophia Stierwalt.
Stierwalt and Todd earned the Civic Engagement and Global Living award, which recognizes youth focused on 4-H work in service to others. Both have been active in community service projects.
Lopez won the Natural Resources and Environmental Science award, which recognizes youth focused on environmental stewardship. 4-H geology and beekeeping projects sparked Lopez’ interest in the natural world and attending a circular economics forum.
The Personal Growth award went to Caleb and Dylan Zwilling, who said 4-H gave them a place of belonging and developed them into better leaders.
Siegmund is the winner of the STEM and Robotics award, which recognizes youth focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. She has been involved with 4-H since age 5.
Graham named Exchange Club winner
Katelyn Graham of Rantoul is the winner of the Rantoul Exchange Club student of the month award.
The senior at Rantoul Township High School is a daughter of Andrew and Delissa Graham of Rantoul.
Graham ranks sixth in her class with a 5.581 grade point average.
Her school activities have included student council, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, FFA, National Honor Society, student leadership group, cheer, golf, softball and track.
She has served as class representative, student council historian and co-president, state liaison to the Kickapoo Association of student Councils, NHS historian and JV football cheer captain.
Honors and awards include Special Olympics youth leadership certificate, Excellence in Team Sports, National Society of High School Scholars membership, FFA greenhand and chapter degrees, junior homecoming court, Excellence in Spanish 3, student council district discussion group leader, academic letter winner, JV cheer most valuable player, Country Financial athlete of the week for golf and cheer, scholar athlete, tri-athlete and varsity letter winner in golf, cheer and softball.
Civic and volunteer activities: Tim Tebow Night to Show prom 2021, First United Methodist church youth group, crossroads mission camp and food pantry volunteer, Special Olympics youth leadership, volunteer, winter and summer games and Miss Champaign County Fair queen pageant volunteer.
Graham plans to earn a two-year degree from Parkland College after which she will transfer to a four-year university with a goal of earning a bachelor’s degree in marketing and public relations. She is interested in being employed as a social media marketer for Special Olympics.
Crop hunger, disaster relief walk Sunday
The 2023 CROP hunger and disaster relief walk will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 1, starting at Grace Lutheran Church, 313 Prospect Ave., C.
At least 12 groups will participate, and the funds raised will be shared with four local agencies: Eastern Illinois Food Bank, Wesley Food Pantry, Sola Gratia Farm and Daily Bread Soup Kitchen.
This marks the 32nd year of the walk in Champaign-Urbana. Last year more than $23,000 was raised.
The Monticello Marching Sages earned first place in Class 4A, best percussion and grand champions at the Robinson Marching Band Invitational on Sept. 23. Twelve bands competed. Pictured are, from left, drum majors Emma Bailliez, Leah Killion and Andrew Bledsoe.
Marching Sages earn first place
The Monticello Marching Sages earned first place in Class 4A, best percussion and grand champions at the Robinson Marching Band Invitational Sept. 23. Twelve bands competed. Pictured are, from left, drum majors Emma Bailliez, Leah Killion and Andrew Bledsoe.
Parkland opens Reed-Richardson room
Parkland College has opened the newly renovated Reed-Richardson Room in the lower level of the college’s Donald C. Dodds Jr. Athletic Complex.
A grand opening ceremony was held Friday afternoon.
The former multipurpose media room has been dedicated in honor of two former Parkland College athletics employees — Jim Reed and Connie Richardson.
The two were instrumental in building Parkland College athletics during the move to the current campus in 1974, establishing new programs and a winning culture to Parkland College and overseeing the construction of the college’s first athletic facilities.
Gifford birthday gals, from left, Dee Grogan, Emma Johnson, Martha Barnett and Marie Buhr.
Four residents of Gifford’s Pleasant View Senior Apartments celebrated birthdays this month — Dee Grogan, who is 85, on Sept. 26; Emma Johnson, 94, on Sept. 24; Martha Barnett, 84, on Sept. 20; and Marie Buhr, 95, on Sept. 20.
All except Grogan lived around Gifford their entire life and with their husband ran their farm. Grogan grew up east of Gifford, moved away and then returned.
Each is considered a vital part of the “family” at the apartment complex, according to Ann Shaw, who also lives at Pleasant View.