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Community Hero: To seniors at Casa de Mañana, enrichment director Kelly Dodd is ‘epitome of effervescence’

Casa de Mañana life enrichment director Kelly Dodd with residents Alice Yee and Alicia Haughney (clockwise from top).
Clockwise from top, Casa de Mañana life enrichment director Kelly Dodd poses with residents Alice Yee and Alicia Haughney during one of the activities Dodd planned.
(Courtesy)

Kelly Dodd, life enrichment director at La Jolla retirement community Casa de Mañana, said her job means enlivening routines for the 200 residents there — “a lot of the fun stuff.”

It’s for those efforts and more that resident Dot Knowles nominated Dodd to be profiled for the La Jolla Light’s Community Heroes series.

“Kelly is wonderful, everybody agrees,” Knowles said. “She is a hero. She does everything to help us. She keeps us from being bored.”

Dodd said she plans events for the residents, which before the coronavirus pandemic meant excursions and onsite entertainment.

“We have a very intellectual, sophisticated group of residents,” with an average age less than that of similar communities, Dodd said. The residents “have a lot of interests. I work closely with the residents to book trips to what they want to see,” such as tours and theater shows.

Dodd, who has worked at Casa de Mañana for nearly seven years, also runs a full onsite calendar, bringing in instructors and other professionals so the residents “get the best” in exercise leaders, historians and more.

She also coordinates social media and technology, bringing in outside help to ensure the residents build and maintain their technological savvy. Dodd estimated that one-third of the community is able to get on Zoom or use other technology well, which she said “breaks stereotypes.”

But beyond organizing a calendar of activities, residents at Casa de Mañana said Dodd imparts joy in all she does.

“She just works so hard,” said resident Judy Johnston. “She’s the epitome of effervescence.”

“The main goal is to keep us active and engaged,” Knowles said. “Anything that helps us do that, she’s right there.”

Resident Bonnie Dunn said that the first time she met Dodd, “I felt like I knew her and she knew me. I’ve never asked her for anything that she didn’t immediately take care of. She’s an amazingly happy, lovely person to be around. She does so much for all of us. She just runs at all times.”

Dodd said it “fills my soul to do this kind of work, because I directly see joy come through their face. They’re just so glad to be in an experience that I created. … I get the gratification, but it’s also a career.”

Residents said they are impressed by Dodd’s positivity. When she is asked about an idea, Johnston said, Dodd will “think about it for a minute and say, ‘I’m sure we can make that happen.’ That’s her classic comment for everything.”

“Any little thing you want, she takes care of it,” Dunn said, including setting up a golf putting course at Casa de Mañana, organizing picnics offsite and a speed-dating activity with another retirement community, and coordinating an onsite store run by volunteer residents.

“All we have to do is just call Kelly and she will solve all our problems,” Dunn said. “She’s amazingly available.”

Dodd also has worked to ensure that the isolation of the pandemic is easier for the residents to handle, shifting her duties at the outset of the virus-related restrictions to include tasks like delivering breakfast options to residents at 6 a.m.

Seeing a familiar face providing a service is comforting to the residents during an uncertain time, Dodd said.

Dodd works to ensure exercise classes continue via Zoom or outdoors, depending on residents’ comfort levels and what restrictions allow. “She makes it really easy for us to stay healthy,” Johnston said.

Dodd also modified the annual Halloween party, coordinating small, socially distanced groups with themed appetizers and costumes and organizing music and other entertainment. “She made lemonade out of lemons,” Johnston said.

Kelly Dodd with her husband, Greg.
(Courtesy)

Dodd, who lives in Mission Hills with her husband of two years, Greg Dodd, is expecting her first child Dec. 2 and will take four-month maternity leave starting at Thanksgiving.

She said she’s thankful to work with “such grateful residents who appreciate the work that’s being done.”

As for being recognized as a community hero, Dodd said she is “a little bashful and embarrassed.”

“‘Hero’ is a very big word, and what I do here feels very ordinary,” she said. “It’s a testament to the relationships I’ve built with a lot of the residents. It feels good that the nomination came from them. It’s people serving people, and clearly I’m on the right track.”

Community Heroes logo
(Daniel K. Lew)

The La Jolla Light’s Community Heroes series for the holiday period highlights people who aren’t often in the news but make a difference in the lives of others. If you know such a person, email Editor Rob Vardon at robert.vardon@lajollalight.com. Please limit suggestions to people who live or work in La Jolla or otherwise have strong ties to the community.