Independent Living and Life Plan communities have long been pushing the idea of “radical hospitality”, where residents experience the environment and customer services akin to a high-end hotel or cruise ship. Residents are waited on hand and foot, nothing is too much trouble, and there’s a 24-hr concierge available to respond to every need or whim. However, in creating a culture of hospitality we can also create a culture of dependence, where residents cease to do things for themselves, fine motor skills decline and passivity increases. Social connections can be damaged as every resident demands what they want; what they believe they are owed as an individual who pays for services. I have experienced a number of communities where the perceived rights of the independent resident far exceed what communities are contractually obligated to provide and what team members have the capacity to deliver. Neither resident nor staff expectations are met and frustrations abound.
Imagine instead that we work to create a culture of citizenship in our communities, where residents have (appropriate) responsibilities in caring for themselves, their community and their fellow residents. A culture where residents don’t just have a voice, but where their voice is heard, their opinions validated and they have feelings of control over their environment. A culture where resident responsibilities of being a good neighbor, being hospitable to visitors and positively contributing to the life of the community are equally as valuable and important as their individual rights to security and services. Where residents truly live “in community”, emotionally connected and accountable to one another, and where their collective influence can have a positive impact on daily life for all.
Does this sound a little utopian? Maybe – I know I’m a terrible idealist! But I also know that small steps can make a difference, and that Activity Professionals in Independent Living have the unique opportunity to engage individuals who have so much capacity to give. Most residents have years of professional and life experience to share; knowledge and expertise beyond our own that can be utilized to help guide operations management and programming. Many residents have served as volunteers for non-profit organizations, schools and churches and can be empowered to run effective volunteer teams. Other residents dedicated their lives to raising families and have the compassion and skills to warmly receive newcomers, support those who are struggling and recognize when someone needs help – and pass that information along.
Finally, ensure that residents know that their voice is heard: every time you implement an idea, schedule a trip or try a new program that was suggested by a resident, start using the expression, “Because You Asked”. Empower them to keep making suggestions that can benefit more than just themselves and remind them that their community listens and responds to requests that will improve the greater good.
Amy Laughlin NAAP President