Living With Purpose, Pandemic or Not
A conversation about staying connected and remaining resilient.
On this episode of Hebrew SeniorLife’s podcast, “There for Them,” we speak with two special guests about how seniors have found ways to connect and live meaningful lives in unexpected ways this past year. Kim Brooks, the chief operating officer for senior living at Hebrew SeniorLife, and Sharon Gouveia, a resident at our continuing care retirement community NewBridge on the Charles, discuss how Hebrew SeniorLife’s approach to senior living helps older adults focus on what matters most to them, even when the world is upside down.
An essential part of elevating senior living is to create a variety of programs that support physical and emotional health. Research-based wellness and coaching programs such as Vitalize 360 help individuals to live their best life based on personalized needs.
During the pandemic, some residents and staff at Hebrew SeniorLife’s Orchard Cove community persevered through the pandemic to audition for, rehearse and act out an adaptation of Guys and Dolls, earning them a Courage in Theatre award from Music Theatre International. Other efforts seek to make an impact outside of the senior community by leveraging the many different skills and interests that residents have. Hebrew SeniorLife’s Sustainability Taskforce includes residents working alongside staff to expand environmental stewardship, while other efforts such as the Volunteer Outreach Committee organize drives and collections to support others in need.
Listen to the full podcast and/or read the transcript below to discover the other interesting ways residents of Hebrew SeniorLife communities continue to live with purpose.
If you’re interested in exploring our living options, which offer a wide range of lifestyles, care levels, and costs, call us today at 617-982-1349, contact us online, or take a virtual tour of Orchard Cove in Canton or NewBridge on the Charles in Dedham.
TARA FLEMING-CARUSO: Your parents were there for you. Now you want to be there for them as they age. Welcome to There for Them, a podcast designed to help you find the information and resources you need to support your aging parents.
Hi, this is Tara Fleming-Caruso, collaborative care advisor at Hebrew SeniorLife. Welcome to our podcast designed specifically for the adult child on the go. In today’s episode we’re talking about how seniors have found unexpected ways to live connected and meaningful lives this past year and how HSL’s approach to senior living helps older adults focus on what matters most to them, even when the world is upside down.
Today we’ll talk with two special guests who I happen to know quite well. Kim Brooks, chief operating officer for senior living at Hebrew SeniorLife and Sharon Gouveia, a resident of NewBridge on the Charles, the Hebrew SeniorLife community where I’m based. Thank you both for being here today. Kim, I’m going to start with you. You’ve led senior living operations across five locations for Hebrew SeniorLife since 2013. Where did the time go? I remember your welcome party. Can you share a little bit about HSL’s approach to senior living?
KIM BROOKS: Hi Tara. I would be happy to. It’s the largest non-profit provider of senior living communities in New England and a Harvard Medical School affiliate. Hebrew SeniorLife’s mission is to help seniors live with purpose and meaning no matter what their age or ability. And since joining HSL I have always been so inspired by the residents who call our communities home. How they pursue goals, they live full lives and they make such a difference in our organization and beyond.
FLEMING-CARUSO: Yes, very true. It’s a gift to be surrounded by this energy and level of commitment every single day. It’s very humbling too. So Kim, what’s the secret? How does HSL as an organization foster this kind of environment? It’s one thing to have this approach as a cultural belief. But it’s another thing to operationalize it and make it a reality. So from your perspective, how does it happen?
BROOKS: So one way we do that is through our Vitalize 360 program, which is a research-based wellness and coaching platform. It was developed at Orchard Cove, our continuing care retirement community in Canton. And it’s now used not only across all of our communities, but many organizations across the country. It’s an innovative approach that is a one-on-one wellness coaching that focuses on each individual’s unique goals and priorities.
It gets at what matters most. It goes well beyond fitness and really supports each individual in living their best life the way they define that for themselves. So if people want to learn more about it they can see it under our wellness coaching section of the Hebrew SeniorLife website. Beyond that, I would say our communities are intentionally designed to put residents at the center. Across all of the sites we encourage a resident-driven culture by fostering resident input to drive our operations. Everything from food and beverage to programming, to lifelong learning.
We have dozens of resident committees, and I’m sure Sharon will talk about some of these, at each of our sites focusing on everything from volunteerism to art to spirituality or whatever is most important to each particular group.
FLEMING-CARUSO: That’s a perfect segue, because speaking of resident leaders who drive and inspire a positive culture, I’d now like to introduce member Sharon Gouveia. Sharon will take a little time to share her personal experience of living at NewBridge on the Charles, Hebrew SeniorLife’s continuing care retirement community in Dedham. Welcome Sharon.
SHARON GOUVEIA: Thanks Tara for having me. I’m Sharon Gouveia and my husband Bill and I moved to NewBridge on the Charles in 2014 from Belmont, Massachusetts. We left our home in Belmont because Bill has Parkinson’s. So we chose NewBridge on the Charles for the whole environment in independent living. But also because it offered health care as a continuing care retirement community. We have two daughters in Westwood and decided to move closer to them. We were hesitant about looking at NewBridge as it is run by Hebrew SeniorLife and we are Catholic.
My daughter’s friend had a parent living here, and she suggested we call him to find out what is it like being Catholic living at NewBridge? We spoke to him and we took his advice. And then we looked at NewBridge. We loved the facility, but the warmth and friendliness of the people sold us. This is the first time in my life that I have been a minority, but we were welcomed here and appreciated for who we are. My husband passed away right before the pandemic last year. I’m so grateful to have been living here at that moment. While I was alone in my apartment due to COVID, I never felt alone. Being here was so good for both of us.
As far as resident driven, I’d say it’s a beautiful collaboration. NewBridge offers incredible teams of support and community life, food and beverage, fitness, lifelong learning. But it’s a collaboration with residents who also bring incredible talents and backgrounds to build community here. For example, I co-chair the resident run Hospitality Committee with Marilyn Stone. One of our goals is to welcome new residents to help ease their transition as they move into their new homes. The committee provides opportunities for the community to connect socially, in addition to the programs and activities that are run by the NewBridge staff.
As part of the welcoming effort we connect each new resident with a hospitality buddy, who reaches out to them before and after they move in. We developed an interest inventory so we can get to know the interests of the residents. Whether they’re interested in book clubs, movies, gardening, walking, committees. And then we match them up with like-minded residents, our committee chairperson who shares their interests and can connect them to what NewBridge offers.
Marilyn and I also host a new resident chat. This is an opportunity for new residents in the same stage of life to meet each other, share experiences and ask questions. In addition to the orientation the staff provides, this gives them a resident perspective. Having lived here, we can answer questions they might not want to ask someone else.
BROOKS: Tara, I just want to add to what Sharon said about the collaborative role that residents played in our response to the pandemic. We had resident advisory groups that included physicians, scientists, and others that provided input on all of our protocols. Not only helping us to reopen thoughtfully, but also allowing us to share those protocols with other organizations. We even had residents creating video public service announcements about safety that they could share with other residents.
And then just this widespread willingness to get vaccinated when we received early access to the vaccine, because we’re a congregate senior living setting. So nearly all Hebrew SeniorLife residents are fully vaccinated and have been for months.
FLEMING-CARUSO: Wonderful. Thank you. Thank you both for educating our listeners, all of these incredible initiatives. It’s really clear that contribution and input from residents really elevates HSL and its communities. Kim, you talked earlier about how Hebrew SeniorLife fosters goal setting and encourages its residents to pursue their dreams. Can you touch on this a bit?
BROOKS: So that is definitely an important component of who we are, and as you’ll notice, we usually say senior living community rather than retirement community. There are residents here who still work, who are tutoring local students. There are artists holding exhibits, people building websites, teaching other technology, publishing literary journals and leading programs and workshops for fellow residents.
That kind of thing is always happening. And while the pandemic made a lot of it logistically challenging, it certainly didn’t stop anyone. So I thought I would share with you two awe inspiring examples of that. The first is a Guys and Dolls production. Some residents and staff at our Orchard Cove community persevered through the pandemic to audition for, rehearse and act out an adaptation of Guys and Dolls. We were so fortunate to be led by locally based actor Aimee Doherty. And about 35 people met in a combination of outside in the fall and on Zoom in the winter when the weather didn’t permit outside work. And then they were presented in the spring with a Courage in Theatre award from a national music theatre organization for all of their efforts.
And then the other one that I wanted to share with you, if you’re familiar with bar and bat mitzvahs, a Jewish milestone usually reserved for teenagers, that takes a lot of study over many, many months to prepare for. We actually had a group of Jewish women living at our HSL community who were interested in pursuing this since they were not able to when they were young as women. They worked with our spiritual care team to prepare and spent what could have been an unproductive time during the pandemic actually fulfilling and celebrating a lifelong dream.
Additionally I would just add that the general perseverance was palpable. I also remember a Center Communities of Brookline resident in her 90s who figured out how to run her book group on Zoom within weeks of the lockdown last March. It is just truly remarkable to me.
GOUVEIA: And if I can add to what Kim said about technology, it’s been really exciting to see how older adults here at NewBridge have really embraced technology. And I think much of that will stay as a way to extend live programming and include even more residents in community life. Here at NewBridge my friend Jerry Wyner, who is in his 90s, an accomplished business and civic leader before moving here, really spearheaded the adoption of Zoom with residents.
He not only set up weekly meetings that kept us together. He coached individual residents who were hesitant to use the platform. He was the pioneer and thanks to him our community was really strengthened. His enthusiasm and leadership really gave folks the confidence to participate. Jerry’s community meetings regularly draw over 75 participants. And even now as we’re coming out of COVID, we have decided that the community meetings are going to be a permanent fixture for now because it really is an important way for Steve Colwell, the head of NewBridge, as well as his team to be there and answer questions that any of the residents may have.
When we were no longer to meet in person, the Hospitality Committee, the Food and Beverage Department, and the Community Life Department brought the weekly coffee connection to a Zoom format. And the cocktail social became a monthly virtual wind-down, with a theme to encourage social participation. Drinks and an appetizer plate were delivered to all those who participated.
I also co-chair the Scholarship Committee with Benita Ross. This committee was established in the fall of 2019. The purpose was to encourage NewBridge staff to continue their education and to pursue their educational goals, whether a college, community college, or a certificate program. NewBridge residents really value education and have been themselves recipients of scholarship. So this was very meaningful. We did some fundraising before COVID hit, and then we had to figure out what we could do to raise funds. Residents, recognizing how the staff switched gears and did so much to keep us safe, well fed, physically fit, and intellectually stimulated. We were grateful for their efforts and donated generously to this fund.
Ultimately we awarded $54,000 in scholarship to 10 qualified staff members that first year. We were really proud to do this as a resident initiative despite the pandemic. But also in light of it, in recognition of the staff who have given so much to us. We’re now working on the second year of awards, and the Scholarship Committee worked hard to create a buzz about the effort.
So this year we held a raffle, and instead of just three grand prizes of $3000, $1500 and $500 toward the monthly rent, we did drawings each week. Giving such prize gifts as free NewBridge courses, gift certificates to the hair salon, Wise Guys computer help, picnic lunches, gourmet dinners, free one night stay at our guest house, and free physical training sessions. Residents came together every week on our Zoom community meetings to see who won the prizes. The scholarship applications are out for this year, and we look forward to another award celebration this summer.
FLEMING-CARUSO: Beautiful. Thank you. Thank you so much. Kim, as dangerous as it is to disagree with the COO, earlier you said that you couldn’t use the word “majestic” for all of these initiatives. But I am going to disagree. All of what you both shared could really be described as majestic. Such a great word and so fitting to everything that’s happened over the past year. It’s really amazing and inspiring.
Okay let’s transition now for a moment to a discussion on how residents are impacting the broader world. Not just the communities that our residents are living in, but outside the walls even during a pandemic. So Kim, can you start us off and tell us how our residents have extended their reach beyond community walls?
BROOKS: So it is majestic, I will agree with you there. And the hyper local example of that is at Orchard Cove, the community in Canton that I’ve mentioned before where residents were worried about the local restaurant scene when all of the town’s indoor dining shut down. So in collaboration with our programming team we were able to coordinate takeout orders. Not only adding variety for residents beyond our restaurants, but also having such impact for residents to be able to use their purchasing power and make a difference to local small business owners.
Another example I’ll share with you is that we have an HSL Sustainability Task Force, which is a group comprised of HSL residents and staff across multiple campuses and different operational areas who work together to expand our environmental stewardship. And the residents in this group boast an unbelievable wealth of professional sustainability experience from their past careers. Serving on Regional Public Works Commission, developing school curriculums on environmental issues. Volunteering with climate action groups.
So not only are they improving the practices of Hebrew SeniorLife, they’re doing public advocacy work which they see as part of their legacy to their grandchildren. And then the last one I’ll share with you that I’m really excited about is that during the pandemic we led an amazing collaboration between HSL, the residents who live in our communities, and a number of outside partners. We worked with researchers at MIT, Combined Jewish Philanthropies, and 2Life Communities to conduct a pilot program of pooled COVID testing for residents last fall.
This was a really new concept at that point. We had hoped that the technique of grouping samples together for testing would provide a faster, accurate, and more affordable way to test communities of large scale, compared to individual testing. And it truly did. We were able to provide weekly testing of residents across all five of our senior living communities throughout the winter and the spring. And our success with this pilot directly impacted the commonwealth of Massachusetts and the approach to reopening public schools. Which are now using pooled testing heavily to monitor cases and accelerate contact tracing.
So the residents of Hebrew SeniorLife were not only reassured by the practice of pooled testing during the process. But as we look back now and as residents look back, it’s an incredible feeling to know that something you did is helping your grandkid’s school reopen safely.
GOUVEIA: And I would like to add to what Kim has said in that looking right here at NewBridge and what we are doing for resident volunteerism, not only in the town of Dedham, but even beyond a little bit. One of the first committees that I joined when I moved to NewBridge was the Volunteer Outreach Committee, whose mission is committed to reaching out to our neighbors in need in Dedham and beyond. This is accomplished through various collections and drives initiated by the committee and through the generosity of NewBridge residents.
During the years that I’ve been here we do several things. One is we do a birthday in a box. So every month we send two boxes to this group called Birthday Wishes. And it provides birthday supplies for a child in a homeless shelter, to know that they are special when they celebrate their birthday. Prior to COVID we also sent magazines to the veteran’s hospital in West Roxbury. We had to stop that during COVID, but we’re looking forward to the time that we can open that up again. As well as sending small bottles of toiletries to the Women’s Lunch Place in Boston.
We do collections for the Family Table, which is a kosher Boston-area food pantry. And so during the holidays or right before the holidays we send special items to them so that those families can benefit from all of the food that they would like to have during their holidays. We donate clothing and also eyeglasses and special glasses to the ophthalmologist here in Dedham, which are then repurposed for others. So there’s a lot that we do here and yes, clearly COVID has stopped some of what we’re doing. But we’re looking forward to getting back on track.
FLEMING-CARUSO: Well, if one wants to feel good about how people make contributions during difficult times, this is certainly the podcast to listen to. It’s really awe inspiring. Great to hear all these amazing initiatives. I have one last question. As you both know, this podcast is designed to educate adult children about how best to support their aging parents. While we’ve noticed a recent spike in interest from vaccinated seniors eager to make a move to a senior living community, adult children have actually been more hesitant. So instead of protective parents, we’re noticing just the opposite, protective children. What would you say to anyone who’s nervous about health and safety within a senior living community at this time?
GOUVEIA: I would like to answer that because I can speak about here at NewBridge. With the weekly testing, the thoughtful protocols that have been put in place, right at the beginning we felt very protected and very safe. We got the vaccines in February, and we feel that the open communication from the executive director Steve Colwell and his team have kept us safe, informed, engaged, stimulated and socially connected.
BROOKS: Tara, I’ll just add to that how proud I am to be part of this organization. Our best practices in infection control have been recognized by the senior care industry and Massachusetts elected officials back when the commonwealth saw how COVID-19 was devastating nursing homes. They called on Hebrew SeniorLife to partner with the Massachusetts Senior Care Association and establish infection control systems that would help every nursing home across the state better protect residents, families, and employees.
We’ve also had other state government agencies and industry groups, like LeadingAge and Executive Office of Elder Affairs turn to us to share our best practices developed during the pandemic. Which we’ve been honored to do. So thank you for the opportunity to share that today.
FLEMING-CARUSO: Yes Kim, absolutely. I actually remember when the governor announced the state’s partnership with Hebrew SeniorLife. It was during his midday press conference, and at the time I happened to be driving into the office. And aside from the excitement of just hearing my employer’s name on the radio, I also was so proud and humbled. I was like, “I work for this company.” What an amazing place. It was really exciting.
But enough kvelling. Thank you both so much for both sharing your insights and stories and for all the time you set aside to be part of our podcast today. To learn more about senior living for our listeners and to explore our blog, please visit www.Hebrewseniorlife.org. And of course it goes without saying, please subscribe to our podcast.
On that note, we want to know what you’d like to hear next. Are there topics that you think would be helpful? Let us know. Send an email to Editor@hebrewseniorlife.org, with the word “podcast” in the subject line. We look forward to continuing these conversations. Thank you and be well.
Thanks for listening to There for Them, brought to you by Hebrew SeniorLife, a leading senior care, non-profit organization that’s an affiliate of Harvard Medical School and is uniquely dedicated to rethinking, researching and redefining the possibilities of aging. Learn more at Hebrewseniorlife.org.
Hebrew SeniorLife offers a variety of senior living options, including independent living, assisted living, and enhanced living. There are options for every lifestyle and budget.