It’s human nature to flock toward those who look the same as we do, but there is value in expanding our world to interact with people of all races and ethnicities. As we commemorate Black History Month and beyond, how can we also celebrate racial and ethnic diversity within our senior living communities?
Respect for Everyone at Presbyterian Senior Living
As a faith-based organization, Presbyterian Senior Living has a firm foundation for its diversity and inclusion efforts, says CEO Steve Proctor.
“We believe it’s important to look beyond tolerance to acceptance and belonging—where people feel like they’re where they want to be and they’re accepted for who they are,” he explains. “That’s the framework we begin with: How do we create an environment of belonging, where there’s space for each individual and respect for everyone?”
Out of that framework came Presbyterian Senior Living’s Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, led by LaJeune Adams, director of employee education and development.
“We have 30 locations across Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, and Delaware, and each one looks different,” says Adams. “We want that diversity to be maintained.”
The task force conducted resident and staff surveys to gain a better understanding of the cultural competence of each community, which provided valuable feedback to inform efforts toward diversity. A Community Diversity Council in every location, comprised of residents as well as staff, is tasked with the ongoing responsibility of planning and implementing strategies to help each community cultivate an environment of acceptance and respect.
“This is a full-fledged embracing of the fact that all humans have infinite worth,” affirms Adams.
For example, to celebrate Black History Month, a Presbyterian Senior Living community in Philadelphia presented a showcase of local black artists. In a location with a high percentage of Native Americans, representatives of local tribes visited the community to share their life experiences. Another community boasts a Living Tree with cut-outs of hands in all different colors, on which residents and staff have written their name, cultural background, and traditions. The tree began with about 25 hands as part of a diversity event, and has since grown as more people want to be part of this visual celebration of the community’s diversity.
Practicing Inclusivity at Collington CCRC
Clearly, inclusion and acceptance extend to senior living residents and staff members alike. Though Collington, a Kendal affiliate, has many African American residents, like most senior living communities it is primarily Caucasian. But senior residency counselor and diversity outreach educator Tia Ervin, an African American woman, immediately felt comfortable in the community.
“When I came to Collington, I felt like it was home. I didn’t feel like an outsider,” she says. “There was a natural, organic welcoming from residents.”
Ervin cites residents’ educational backgrounds as well as Collington’s location 20 miles outside Washington, D.C., as key drivers of the community’s diversity.
“A lot of our residents are liberal-minded people,” she says. “They want to be amongst people of other races, nationalities, and sexualities.”
During Black History Month, Collington doesn’t have to go far to find people to speak about the African American experience—the community celebrates the accomplishments of its own residents. And it was the residents—women and men—who expressed interest in attending the Women’s March in January. The community organized buses, and residents showed up to the event with their wheelchairs and scooters, and even sold their own handmade pink pussyhats.
“We practice inclusivity,” says Ervin. “It’s more than just a word.”
Why Diversity Matters
From Ervin’s perspective, racial and ethnic diversity really do matter in a senior living community.
“Seeing someone who is somewhat like you makes you feel like you’re not the only one,” she explains. “When you see a representation of yourself, it makes it easier to come in.”
In fact, after visiting Collington, a racially mixed couple told Ervin, “Out of all the communities we visited, this was the first place we felt comfortable. We didn’t feel like all eyes were on us.”
No matter what your racial or ethnic background, a diverse population enhances the lives of everyone in the community.
“Plain vanilla is not necessarily interesting day after day—we need all the flavors,” says Proctor. “There’s richness that comes with a diverse population, when we live and work together every day.”
CHIME IN: What value do you place on living in a diverse senior community?