Connecting Senior Living Residents to the Local Community

shutterstock_257431405Some may think of senior living communities as islands unto themselves, separated from the world around them. However, there are countless ways that senior living communities keep residents connected to what is happening outside its walls and beyond its grounds.

Even though they have made the move to Independent or Assisted Living, many senior residents still have ties to the people, businesses, schools, cultural events, and other aspects of their at-large community—and they’re not willing to give them up. Senior living providers keep such connections intact in the following ways:

Getting Out and About

At many senior living communities, vans or shuttle buses are available to take residents to doctor’s appointments, religious services, hairdressers, restaurants, shopping excursions, or cultural outings. This ability to go “off-campus” connects seniors and gives them a sense of freedom and mobility that they otherwise might miss. Often, this transportation is free or offered at a nominal charge. Many of the vehicles are wheel-chair accessible to serve all residents. 

Bringing In Outside Resources

Making meaningful community connections also means bringing outside resources in. Many senior communities host musical performers and guest lecturers.

Connecting with the community is often tied to education. For instance, at Diakon Senior Living, residents have the opportunity to pursue knowledge through the Smart Seniors Series, which features a variety of classes designed to engage, educate, and increase awareness on issues important to seniors—such as fitness, health education, finances, arts and entertainment, current events, and social activities.

Ann’s Choice, a retirement community in Warminster, Penn., managed by Erickson Living, also has a unique program that brings outside educational resources to its residents. Known as Ann’s Choice Lifelong Learning Academy (ACLLA), the program features college-level courses that are taught by an impressive lineup of instructors, all of whom are current or retired college professors from prominent area colleges and universities. Subject matter runs the gamut of academic topics, from science to music. The academy features two 10-week semesters a year in the spring and fall. Typically there are two to three classes held each week; each class lasts about 1½ hours. Residents can attend as many of classes as they like for a $50 per semester fee.

The caliber of the classes and instructors is extremely high, per these examples from the most recent course catalog: “The Adams Women”, which looks at the historic roles played by Abigail (wife of John Adams), Louisa (wife of John Quincy Adams) and others, taught by Dr. William Walker, Ph.D., professor Emeritus of Chestnut Hill College; “The Myth of Judicial Activism: Making Sense of Supreme Court Decisions,” taught by Dr. Kermit Roosevelt III, professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania (as well as the great-great-grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt); “The Philadelphia Orchestra: Its Glorious Past, Its Exciting Future,” led by Karl Middleman, a veteran conductor and associate adjunct professor at Temple University; and “Einstein, Schrödinger and the Riddle of Quantum Theory,” taught by Dr. Paul Halpern, Ph.D., professional of physics at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.

“We have people here who are retired teachers, who are very well-educated and who still read very widely, so we try to include subjects that spark people’s interest,” says Nancy Bulera, one of three Ann’s Choice residents who serves as co-chair of the ACLLA. (The other co-chairs are Trudi Hertfelder and Carolyn Gilson.)

The community resource staff at Ann’s Choice helped get ACLLA off the ground about seven years ago, but now a panel of 40 residents help the three co-chairs run the program, doing everything from selecting the courses and lining up the instructors to producing the course catalog and facilitating the classes. The first year classes were offered, approximately 180 residents signed up. Now, the program typically attracts about 450-500 people, which is approximately one-quarter of the residents at Ann’s Choice.

“The instructors tell us they love coming here because we’re such an attentive audience,” says Bulera. “We listen, we ask intelligent questions, and we already have an appreciation of the historic events and people they’re talking about.”

The ACLLA is so exceptional that it serves as a selling point for Ann’s Choice. “It’s such a well-organized, vibrant program, and it’s become one of the things that convinces people to come here,” says Bulera.

Connecting Generations 

shutterstock_280391267While senior living residences are, by definition, the domain of older adults, some communities make a point to invite children and young people for special events. At many communities, elementary-school children may come in at Christmas time to sing carols, or at Easter time to participate in a hunt for dyed eggs.

Intergenerational connections are strongly encouraged at Integrated Care Communities, whose scope of care includes Assisted Living, Memory Care, Skilled Nursing and—a unique component—child development. With the Jan Peterson Child Development Center located on site, the community encourages intergenerational play and interaction. Weekly visits are available for those guests who wish to reawaken their “inner child,” as the Integrated Care Communities website puts it. The community characterizes this special program as “the next best thing to seeing your own grandchildren every day.”

At Ann’s Choice, the ACLLA program also provides a positive connection to the younger generation. Because participation has increased so much over the years, the program now operates at a surplus. As such, the ACLLA organizers currently contribute to the general Ann’s Choice Scholarship fund and award individual scholarships as funds allow (the scholarship program benefits students who work in the Ann’s Choice dining rooms). Most recently, ACLLA awarded two $3,000 scholarships to deserving recipients. In the last few years, they also contributed to a benevolent care fund and a staff appreciation fund.

“We decided to use the money left over after paying our expenses to foster these young people’s education, since that is in keeping with our mission to provide, promote, and encourage continuing education at an academic level,” Bulera explains. 

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