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An Engaged Way of Life

I recently attended an event at The Ohio State University at Marion that focused on The Presidency and the Press. Because Marion is the late president Warren G. Harding’s hometown, the university hosts an annual convocation on a topic of relevance to American history and politics.

One of the featured speakers this year was Ms. Maggie Haberman, the New York Times’ Chief White House correspondent. As she spoke about her experience as a member of the White House Press Corps, I observed the audience’s reactions, a group largely made up of older adults.

Engaged, Insightful

I thought that there would be more students and young adults, but that wasn’t the case. In fact, this audience of older community residents asked very cogent and insightful questions. It was clear that they were informed, conversant about current events and eager to understand how our government works.   Many in fact expressed concern about what some called the apparent chaos emanating from the national government and the political environment we live in. Several spoke to the current divided political environment. Others reflected on the increased manipulation of fact and use of falsehoods in politics generally and the White House in particular.

This was a very engaged audience of older adults! They spoke with great passion as they made insightful critiques of current events and national leaders. It made me proud to be among them, my grey hair included.

UCH Fosters Dignity, Respect

Engagement is a hallmark of United Church Homes’ vision to promote experiences that create a sense of abundant life for those we serve. To us, abundant life isn’t about material things. It is focused on experiences that create joy, community and personal fulfillment. These come from experiencing dignity and respect. We want to provide opportunities to be included in the ongoing events of the wider world and open new paths to learn and grow. Our residents expect to remain informed and involved in a variety of activities, experience the arts and pursue different interests. They want opportunities to explore new ideas and develop new talents.

Our communities provide more than just a place to live or even a special lifestyle for older adults. We believe that to transform the experience of aging, we need to foster a journey to a more fulfilling, stimulating and expansive way of living. In short, our communities provide an experience that engages body, mind and spirit. Older adults are no different from anyone else in their zest for learning and developing their capabilities for as long as possible throughout their elder years.

Engaged Older Adults

More and more, our residents expect to be engaged with advocacy, both public and within our communities. In fact, residents do want to be heard and their concerns addressed in shaping the way our communities are managed and the services we provide. We use resident councils, advisory committees and periodic town hall-style meetings. Uplands Village in Pleasant Hill, Tennessee, has a robust culture for this kind of resident engagement and activism. They have a green committee who has been working with an intern from The Ohio State University this summer to develop a campus-wide plan to improve trails and nature areas. In addition, the “Green Team” is evaluating various approaches to improve conservation among residents and for the campus operations. And this is as it should be.

Resident Engagement

All life plan communities have long since embraced concepts of resident engagement to guide their programming. Most have integrated programs for wellness support, exercise and other vigorous physical activities and games are common. Even Wii bowling competitions have sprung up around the country, pitting communities against in each other in friendly matches connected by technology. In centers with pools, it is common to find water aerobics, exercise, games and even yoga, such as we have at our Parkvue Community in Sandusky, Ohio.

We take resident engagement very seriously and support a variety of ways that our folks want to engage with their world. This year, United Church Homes initiated a new customer satisfaction program that measures the level of resident engagement. The ever-changing market for seniors shows a tilt toward a more engaged lifestyle. This survey is not just focused on elements of resident satisfaction with whatever services we provide. They focus on learning our residents’ perception of opportunities to nurture body, mind and spirit. For example, our Glenwood Community in Marietta, Ohio, attained one of the highest measured levels of resident engagement in the country and will be recognized by Holleran at an event later this year.

The wisdom of age includes the motivation to stay up on current events, discern new ways of thinking and being in the world, understand some of society’s problems and find ways to be involved in improving the lives of others. I guess it shouldn’t have been surprising to me after all to listen to Maggie Haberman from the New York Times with a room filled with so many older adults like me. Inquiring minds want to know! And one of the blessings of age is having the time to be more engaged in body, mind and spirit.

About Rev. Kenneth Daniel

Rev. Kenneth Daniel is the president and CEO of United Church Homes. A licensed nursing home administrator, he has worked in a variety of positions of responsibility in senior healthcare and housing services over the past 20 years. Rev. Daniel holds a master's degree in divinity from United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, a master's degree in pastoral counseling from Moravian Theological Seminary and a master's degree of public administration from Marywood University. Immediately prior to joining United Church Homes, Rev. Daniel was interim president of Lancaster Theological Seminary. An ordained United Church of Christ minister, Rev. Daniel holds Fellow status with the American College of Health Care Administrators.

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