“Aging in place” may describe what the residents were doing
but not who they wanted to be.
In the mid-1990s, the Walt Disney Company brought the principles of new urbanism to life when it broke ground on Celebration, Florida. Located minutes from Disney’s Orlando theme parks, Celebration was planned to be a “complete diverse, walkable, compact, and vibrant place to live, learn, work, and play. This created community would be a traditional American town built anew.”
While visitors may focus on the architecture, mixed use zoning, mansions, townhouses, greenspace, cozy shops and bistros, Celebration is more than brick, mortar, and homeowner association covenants. Look deeper—just like any vibrant community—and we are reminded that people live in those houses, traverse the streets, and patronize the shops. Old and young, they need more than quaint streets and manufactured snowflakes during the holiday season. They want a sense of belonging and meaning.
Enter the Celebration Foundation, a curator of resources for the community. Its board members recognized early on that their best resource-the biggest asset-was the residents of the community. They must tap into those people. Without them, there would be no community.
When the Foundation came to life in 1996, it brought together the community gatekeepers who helped identify and assess needs of the greater community. Over the years, it has reached out to the homeless in need of a meal, to young girls searching for positive role models, and high school students looking for post-secondary direction.
In 2015, the Foundation launched Thriving In Place, a resource program for the “mature” Celebration population. From conversations with Celebration residents, it became clear neighbors aged 55 and older were facing challenging situations to remain in their homes. Some needed assistance with basic home maintenance, while others required transportation to and from doctors, hospitals, the grocery store, special events, or places of worship. A few had to confront the difficult situation to give up their homes and independent life style. You could say these older residents (and some with disabilities) had trouble “aging in place.” Foundation board member Eileen Crawford, however, saw this from another perspective.
She said that “aging in place” may describe what the residents were doing but not who they wanted to be. They did not want to merely survive. They may have been aging individuals, but they most definitely were not decrepit people waiting to be warehoused. They wanted to thrive.
On July 13, 2018, I had the opportunity to speak with members of Thriving In Place as well as record a conversation with Gloria, Eileen, and Mary Pat at the Foundation headquarters.
Executive Director Gloria Niec credits the organic growth of Thriving In Place to a methodical process. As a skilled facilitator and leader, she knew you do not develop a resource without meaningful input from and deep conversation with those who would use that resource.
It took two years to gather the research needed to understand what the program had to provide, what the program needed to look like, who would participate, and how it would be supported and funded. Not a minor undertaking.
Today, its mission states,
Thriving In Place is a community-based membership program designed to help residents stay in their home and the community they love. If you are at least 55 years old or a person with a disability of any age, you are eligible to become a member of our program. It enables residents to live in their own homes leading healthy, safe, independent and productive lives.
Starting with a pioneer group of 20, membership has more than quintupled.
Video Recommendation for the Week
This classic song (paired with world-class international performers) reminds us that “no matter who you are, no matter where you go in your life, at some point you gonna need somebody to stand by you.” Thriving In Place understands and lives that truth.
What do members get for their yearly membership of $1/day (or $520 for a couple)? At one of their weekly Friday luncheons (July of 2018), the assembled program members provided unscripted testimony. For them, the program
- Establishes community—caring for one another;
- Relieves loneliness;
- Builds friendships;
- Includes opportunities for the disabled;
- Offers the ability to volunteer—to give back to their community;
- Provides transportation to events or to and from medical appointments;
- Creates stay-in-touch phone calling which, in turn, provides assurances to long-distance family members that their elderly parents are doing well.
One member stood and shared that the program is a reminder to “be as kind and loving to everyone you meet. Because, everyone is fighting a battle.”
Another poignantly stated, “We are slowing down, as people around us are moving faster. It’s easy to be left behind.” Thriving In Place provides access to resources, so they will not be left behind.
Social capital helps create a full life. Research tells us if we can move beyond weak social ties to more meaningful and authentic connections, our chances for longer life expand.
And, according to program manager Mary Pat Rosenthal, socialization continues to be the common denominator—the glue—for the Thriving In Place members. The activities, events, excursions, and the intergenerational volunteer opportunities allow the members to be involved, active, and contributing community resources themselves. They still have talents and gifts to grow and to share. Remember, as board member Crawford first stated, these folks are doing anything but “aging in place!”
When we speak of resources, “things” and “services” may come to mind. Do not, however, forget the relationships. Relationships remain the secret sauce. Without them what do we have? Connected people create, nurture, and sustain the best resource a community has to offer.
Thriving In Place proves a home is more than the sum of its architectural codes, zoning requirements, and pedestrian friendly streets. Home is a feeling of comfort, peace, and community.
When I asked Rosenthal, the program manager, what kept her coming back to the program each day she smiled and said, “It’s about the people.”
Resources take on many forms. Beyond material things, healthy relationships offer a powerful foundation that, really, supports all others.
For more about community building and sustainability, look for my new book due out the beginning of 2019. More information to come.
Make it an inspiring and grateful week and H.T.R.B. as needed.
For information about and to order my most recent book, Stories about Teaching, Learning, and Resilience: No Need to be an Island, click here. A few colleges and one state-wide agency have adopted it for training and coaching purposes. Contact me if you and your team are interested in doing the same.
The paperback price on Amazon is now $14.99 and the Kindle version stands at $5.99. Consider it for a faculty orientation or a mentoring program. The accompanying videos would serve to stimulate community-building conversations at the beginning of a meeting.
Pearson Education publishes my student textbooks for life success—Choices for College Success (3rd edition) and Study Skills: Do I Really Need This Stuff? (3rd edition).
(c) 2018. Steve Piscitelli. All rights reserved.